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Endangered animal species in Sweden: Baltic porpoise

The porpoise is Sweden's only cetacean species that resides in Sweden permanently. They are one of the world's smallest whales and only grow between 1.5-1-8 meters long. The females and males are usually grey-black on the back, with light gray sides and white bellies. They have a blunt snout that gives them a friendly impression.

Image credit: Ecomare/ CC BY-SA 4.0

The Baltic harbor porpoise belongs to a separate population that differs genetically from harbor porpoises found on the west coast. They have declined dramatically in numbers over the last hundred years and are now critically endangered, with only a few hundred individuals remaining. Several factors have influenced their decline. During the second half of the 20th century, there was mainly an increase in environmental toxins in the Baltic Sea, as well as new efficient fishing nets that harbor porpoises got stuck in, which caused the population to decrease. In the mid-seventies, the decision was made to protect the species, but unfortunately, the stock did not increase. Today, the fishing industry's fishing nets are still considered one of the porpoise's biggest threats. Overfishing of their prey is also a growing threat.

The Baltic porpoise occurs mainly along the southern coasts of the Baltic Sea, up to the Åland Sea. The diet mainly consists of smaller schools of fish such as herring, but also cod, horse eel and more appear on the menu. They are fast swimmers, as well as skilled hunters. When Danish researchers studied the hunting methods of Kattegatt porpoises on one occasion, it was concluded that they succeeded in catching 90% of the fish they targeted. They mainly hunt solitary but sometimes you see them hunting in packs. Like other cetacean species, the porpoise uses echolocation to navigate and capture prey. They emit sound waves that then bounce off objects.

South of Gotland, porpoises gather in the summer to reproduce. After a gestation period of 10-11 months, the female gives birth to her calf, which lives with her for about a year.

Positive news for the conservation of Baltic harbor porpoises came last year, when a conservation plan was finally established for their breeding area.

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