Harbor Porpoise Research in Alaska

We assess harbor porpoise populations and their response to environmental change in Alaskan waters.

Harbor Porpoise.

Harbor Porpoise.

A Pod of Harbor Porpoise.

A Pod of Harbor Porpoise.

Harbor porpoise often live in shallow, nearshore areas where they are vulnerable to nets, noise, and habitat alteration from human activities like fishing, shipping, and construction. We assess harbor porpoise populations and their response to environmental change to provide the scientific information managers need to protect and conserve harbor porpoise in Alaskan waters. 

Stock assessments

Resource managers need to know how many porpoises there are, where they are, and how their populations are changing. Because harbor porpoise are small, inconspicuous, and rarely active at the surface, and also often travel alone, collecting these data is challenging. Our scientists use various methods to assess harbor porpoise populations and present the data in annual stock assessment reports.  

Aerial and Vessel Surveys

Aerial and vessel surveys collect data used to estimate harbor porpoise abundance for stock assessments. We also use vessel surveys to collect data for special research, including a study of temporal changes in abundance of harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) inhabiting the inland waters of Southeast Alaska spanning 22 years.

A Harbor Porpoise.

Harbor Porpoise.

Acoustic Studies

Our scientists have used passive acoustic monitoring (listening to underwater sounds) to monitor the year-round presence of harbor porpoises in some habitats. By combining these data with fishery trawl transects we can assess fish and invertebrate diversity and identify potential harbor porpoise prey.

Environmental DNA Research

We are using environmental DNA techniques to understand population structure within inland waters of Southeast Alaska, an area where bycatch may be impacting one of the Alaskan harbor porpoise populations: A Little Bit of Seawater Is Helping Scientists Study Elusive Harbor Porpoise off the Coast of Alaska.

Drawing on Archaeological and Local Knowledge

Little is known about harbor porpoise in Cook Inlet, Alaska, and no long-term studies of porpoise have been done there. We summarized occurrence of harbor porpoise over time from archaeological data, anecdotal reports, and systematic surveys to increase our understanding of porpoise found in this region.  

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Harbor Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena vomerina, in Cook Inlet, Alaska

The species is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, inhabiting coastal and inland waters. There may be as many as four distinct subspecies, of which