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Porpoise Tails - Update on Boston Harbor Porpoise Research

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    Hi All, As some of you may know the Everett Police Marine Division has been assisting Jim Rice of the New England Aquarium with his research project on
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2004
      Hi All,
      As some of you may know the Everett Police Marine Division has been assisting Jim Rice of the New England Aquarium with his research project on porpoises in Boston Harbor and the Mystic River. Because of the security issues Lt. McAdam (my boss) allowed Jim to place his acoustic sensors on buoys from the police boat. (Jim received permission to hang them on the buoys from the Coast Guard.) Two sensors were placed, one in the Chelsea Creek near Mill Creek by Orient Heights, the other at the beginning of the Mystic River. The sensors were placed about 5 weeks ago and are able to distinguish the clicks generated by porpoises to aid them in navigation and hunting- sonar, if you will. The sensors can only count the number of clicks over time and there is no way to tell how many animals may be producing the clicks as porpoise vocalizations cannot be individually identified as with dolphins.
      On Saturday March 20th we retrieved the sensors and Jim downloaded the data. It appears that the porpoises came into the Chelsea Creek on March 17th and have remained active there. Comments were made that they might be Irish porpoises as they came in on St. Patrick's Day. On the Mystic the animals appeared first on March 2nd and remained until March 7th. There was no other recorded porpoise activity until March 16th and they have remained active since then. Antidotal evidence (reported sightings by the State Police Dive Team) have placed the porpoises in Boston Harbor by Charlestown Pier 1 (the turning basin area) as early as March 6th. The sensors were installed again with the Chelsea Creek sensor remaining at the same location and the Mystic River sensor being placed closer to the Amelia Earhart Dam to see if they travel under the Rt. 99 Bridge. More to follow !
      While we were out we did see two porpoises in the Mystic River. Jim thought them to be very young,perhaps yearlings and it is not known if they were hunting or just exploring. Jim believes that that mother porpoises bring them into shallow waters (like Boston Harbor) to allow them to learn to survive independent of them free from large predators. The animals were seen mainly on the Boston side of the river, first near the Tobin Bridge by US Gypsum Dock and later in the morning up by the old Domino Sugar Dock (where the cooling water exhaust plume from the old Mystic Edison plant ends up on the Boston side). Jim doesn't know what they may be feeding on now before the herring runs and hopes to troll a net soon to determine what life is available to them. Jim captured them on video and if he gets any good stills he will forward them. More to follow!
      On a sad note... the Everett Police Boat was transporting city officials from Everett and Somerville on  Thursday March 18th so they might plan and coordinate the Mystic Crossing event for the Walk of Incomplete Paths on April 24th. Just after leaving the dock we saw a porpoise just off the Schraffts Dock. The animal was dead and floating on the surface. Jim Rice was contacted and he wanted the animals remains for study. The carcass was transported to the aquarium and Jim performed a necropsy. As a result of his work Jim was able to determine the following; The animal was a sub-adult female about 2years old. It was malnourished and had trauma to the right facial area (probably from bird strikes, unknown if post mortem). There was mud on the flukes indicative of stranding. All organs were normal except the pancreas which was inflamed, possible due to a parasite. The death was recent, probably within 24 hours. Cause of death would probably be complications of malnutrition secondary to pancreatitus. Jim's theory is the animal stranded itself on mudflats (possibly the flats on/near the Island End River) because of it's weakened condition. It died there and received the trauma to the face (or vice versa) and floated up river to where we found it.
      Remember if you see a injured, sick or stranded porpoise or seal don't touch it! Contact your local animal control or the call the New England Aquarium's 24-hour Marine Animal Rescue Hotline at  (617) 973-5247
      For more information come to the Everett Waterfront Speaker Series, Sponsored by the City of Everett and the Friends of the Everett Waterfront On April 22, 2004, 7pm at Everett City Hall.


      The Distribution, Abundance, and Life History of

      Harbor Porpoises in Boston Harbor and the Mystic River.

      Jim Rice

      Senior Biologist

      Marine Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation

      New England Aquarium



      Jim Rice currently serves as Senior Biologist in the Rescue and

      Rehabilitation Department at the New England Aquarium in Boston, where

      he has worked since 1996. He holds a bachelor's degree from the

      University of Vermont, and is an alumnus of the Sea Semester program

      in Woods Hole, which taught him about oceanographic research on the

      high seas in a sailing research vessel.  He has 16 years of experience

      working with and studying marine mammals, as a trainer, care-giver,

      and researcher. He has studied sea

      lion (and elephant) cognition and behavior, habit use of killer whales in

      British Columbia, and is currently investigating the distribution,

      abundance, and life history of harbor porpoises in Boston Harbor.


      Officer Patrick Johnston
      Everett Police Marine Division
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