Harbour Porpoise

Phocoena phocoena

What do they look like?

The Harbour Porpoise is the smallest and most abundant cetacean found in Scottish inshore waters. They have no beak and a rounded head, giving them a rather blunt and stocky appearance. A Harbour Porpoise’s back is dark brown and blends to a light grey or white underside.

To spot a Harbour Porpoise, look out for the small triangular fin located a fraction further than halfway down its back.

Where can I see them in Scotland?

The Harbour Porpoise can be found throughout British coastal waters, but it is particularly common around the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides. Preferring shallow waters, the Harbour Porpoise is usually spotted close to the shore such as in estuaries and bays. They have even been known to venture short distances up rivers.

You are most likely to see a harbour porpoise on its own or within a small group of two to five individuals.

Fun Fact
Being small and warm-blooded (endothermic), harbour porpoises will quickly lose heat in Scotland’s cold coastal waters. They also have a high metabolic rate, which means that their bodies use up their energy supplies more rapidly. To compensate, they must eat constantly day and night.

20 years
Maximum Lifespan
1.4-1.9 metres
Least Concern
IUCN Conservation Status

Find out more about cetaceans
Not many people know that Scotland has some of the best whale and dolphin watching opportunities in Europe. Discover more about which species you can spot, how scientists are monitoring their numbers, fun facts, crafts and more inside our cetaceans Dive-in pack.

A group of 4 volunteers gaze out to sea through their binoculars on a bright day in North Berwick with scattered clouds.
© Jess Thompson

We’re excited to be supporting a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Shorewatch site here in North Berwick! WDC Shorewatch is a network of volunteers trained to monitor whales and dolphins at sites around the Scottish coastline, raising awareness and capturing vital data to protect these amazing species.

The Seabird Centre Catamaran tour boat as it cruises around a Bass Rock that is bright white with breeding gannets.
© Rob McDougall

Wildlife Boat Trips
Whales and dolphins are regular visitors to the Firth of Forth and can sometimes be spotted from our guided wildlife boat trips and from the shore.

Want to find out more about cetaceans in Scotland?

Visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation website or the Sea Watch Foundation website for more information.

A Harbour Porpoise's triangular dorsal fin emerging from dark water
© Emma Steel

The triangular dorsal fins of two Harbour Porpoises emerging from dark water
© Emma Steel