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Surf’s up for porpoises in Wales

Surfing harbour porpoise

Rare images of porpoises surfing the waves off the coast of Wales were snapped by members of a research team from WDC over the weekend as they scanned the water from a land-based platform on the Lleyn peninsula.

Whilst this kind of behaviour is common among their bigger cousins, dolphins, it is not often that the shy little porpoise is spotted surfing the waves. In fact they are only rarely ‘porpoise’ – the term given when a porpoise or dolphin moves at speed and comes completely out of the water.

Pine Eisfeld-Pierantonio, WDC policy manager and member of the research team said; We saw some harbour porpoises just below our platform (350m off the rocks) and we couldn’t believe our eyes - they were surfing!  I have not seen this with porpoises before, only dolphins. We could make their dark shapes out through the water, just under the surface, swimming with the forming waves, sometimes staying under water and sometimes surfing the crest of the wave. Five porpoises including a mother and calf did this, and only this, for well over 30 minutes.

‘These porpoises certainly looked like they enjoyed what they were doing. They rode the wave, then you could see them swim further out to catch the next one. It looked like it was for pure enjoyment, getting a free ride along with the ‘pressure wave’ just like when people go and surf.’

The English word ‘porpoise' is derived from the Latin word for pig – porcus. Rather unflatteringly, the harbour porpoise used to be known as the “puffing pig”, because of the sneeze-like puffing sound it makes when it breathes!

More on WDC’s ongoing Bardsey Island research project here

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