The Harbour porpoise is one of seven species of porpoise. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries. This porpoise often ventures up rivers and has been seen hundreds of miles from the sea. It is one of the smallest marine mammals. Adults grow to 1.4 to 1.9 m (4.6 to 6.2 ft)
Did you know?
The name “porpoise” comes from the Latin for pig (porch). Harbour porpoises are therefore sometimes called “puffing pigs”, due to the sound they make as they breathe. Interestingly, when surfacing for air, these porpoises do not splash; instead they roll from their beak to their fluke and arch their back.
Booth’s entry about the summer kittiwake diorama discusses the Sea-Bird Preservation Act that protected the birds. In Booth’s opinion:
‘the senseless slaughter that took place round their breeding-stations every summer having been allowed to continue too long without interference.’
The Sea Bird Preservation Act of 1869 was the first in the country to protect birds. It prevented people from killing seabirds and collecting their eggs from April to August so that they could breed. The main motivation for this was not for the protection of the birds themselves, but to aid sailors who relied on healthy seabird populations to find land in foggy conditions.
As a collector of birds, Booth’s following sentence contains no sense of irony at his killing of these birds: ‘The specimens in this case were obtained at the Bass Rock in June, 1867.’ The winter kittiwake diorama contains adults in winter plumage and juveniles that were ‘shot a few miles off Brighton, in the winter of 1870.’
Despite the downward trend of many populations of kittiwakes, the colony at Seaford Head in Sussex continues to thrive. Seaford Head to Beachy Head is designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Seaford Head Nature Reserve is part managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. There are over 1000 nests in the kittiwake colony. No one knows exactly why they are doing better than other colonies around the UK. A possible explanation is that prey species are also faring better in the South East. However, this may change as sea temperatures are expected to rise faster along the south coast bringing more unpredictable changes for the kittiwakes and their associated marine ecosystem.
Written by Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant, The Booth Museum of Natural History