Porpoises Make Amazing Return to the San Francisco Bay, Need Help from Citizen Scientists

Groups launch “Return of the Porpoise” campaign to celebrate this remarkable conservation story

02-12-2013 // Aislinn Maestas
Harbor porpoises

After a sixty-five year absence, porpoises have made an amazing return to the San Francisco Bay. To celebrate this success and to ensure the marine mammal’s continued residence in the Bay, National Wildlife Federation and Golden Gate Cetacean Research have partnered on a “Return of the Porpoise to San Francisco Bay” campaign.

Sightings of harbor porpoises have recently delighted visitors to and residents of San Francisco, yet most do not realize the significance of seeing this animal in the Bay. 

The return of porpoises to the San Francisco Bay tells us that the ecosystem is healthier than it has been in a long time,” said Beth Pratt, California Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Many people played a part in making this revival a success, but many more will be needed to ensure it lasts.”

The campaign will focus on three key areas:

  • Document this population’s abundance by conducting a census, studying how they use their new habitat, and learning about their social structure.
  • Encourage the public to play a role as citizen scientists by reporting sightings and sending in images of harbor porpoises in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photographs will help the groups track the animals over time. 
  • Provide information to resource managers in California—as well as in Europe where harbor porpoise populations are in decline—to help them make wise conservation choices.

“The unexpected return of these animals provides a unique scientific opportunity,” said Bill Keener, marine biologist with Golden Gate Cetacean Research. “San Francisco Bay may now be the best place in the world to study harbor porpoises. The more we can learn about these animals in their natural habitat, the more we can do to help them survive and thrive into the future.”

To help with this effort, National Wildlife Federation and Golden Gate Cetacean Research are asking citizens and visitors to report sightings of the porpoises. To make it easy for citizen scientists, people can share their photos and report sightings at www.sfbayporpoises.org. By looking at scars and pigmentation patterns on the body, researchers can use the photos to track movements of the porpoises. This is the most comprehensive photo-identification effort undertaken for this species.

At this point, the National Wildlife Federation is the only major nonprofit supporting this cause and Golden Gate Cetacean Research the only organization conducting a study.

To learn more about the campaign, visit www.sfbayporpoises.org.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

Golden Gate Cetacean Research is a recently-formed nonprofit created to focus on the study of cetaceans (the family of porpoises, dolphins and whales) in the San Francisco Bay Area.