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The Puffer Pig

The English word porpoise derives from the latin word porcopiscus, which is a compound of porcus (pig) and piscus (fish). This may refer to the snout, which might resemble that of a pig or the sound of a breathing harbour porpoise, which might resemble a pig’s snort. It is also called a ‘puffer’ or ‘puffer pig’. 


Danish Marsvin (hval) - Deutsch Gewöhnlicher Schweinswal - Dutch Bruinvis - English Common Porpoise, Puffin pig - Finnish Lahtivalas - French Marsouin commun - Gaelic Muc-mhara-mhionc - German Zwergwal, Minkwal - Iceland Hnísa - Italian Focena, marsuino - Norwegian Nise - Polish Płetwal karłowaty - Portugese Toninha-comum - Spanish marsopa común - Swedish Vanlig tumlare



The harbour porpoise belongs to the suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales) and to the family Phocoenidae (porpoises). There are 3 known subspecies: Phocoena phocoena phocoenawith populations in the North Atlantic and West Africa, then Phocoena phocoena relicta in the Black Sea and Phocoena phocoena vomerina living in the Northeast Pacific. There is an unnamed population in the Northwest Pacific.

Order: Cetacea
Suborder: Odontoceti
Family: Phocoenidae
Genus: Phocoena
Species: Phocoena phocoena
Sub-species: P. p. phocoena, P. p. relicta, P. p. vomerina


The harbour porpoise is about 1.6 m in length. The females of 72 kg are heavier then males, which weigh about 61 kg. The flippers, dorsal fin, tail fin and the dorsal area are a dark grey or black in colour. The sides are in a lighter grey while the underside is much whiter, though there are usually grey stripes running along the throat from the underside of their body. This porpoise is often seen in rivers, even hundreds of miles from the sea.


Harbour porpoise feed mainly on small schooling fish like herring, capelin or sprat. Rarely they eat squid and crustaceans. They hunt usually alone, but sometimes they build groups to herd the school of fish.


Least concern. Special concern in Canada.