It seems like a long, long time ago now. But I once operated a biological research station on Deer Island, a little island at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, right on the border between Maine, USA, and New Brunswick, Canada. For many years we helped Dr. Dave Gaskin from the University of Guelph as he and his students and assistants carried out research on harbour porpoise and other marine creatures in the waters off our little island.
In the fall, after university started, we often had the duty of removing captured porpoise from local weirs. First they would be seined up in a big net used for removing herring. We would grab the victim, pull it into our boat, do some measurements, tag it, and take it well away from the weir to be released.
On one occasion we arrived at a weir near our facility and discovered a tiny little porpoise trying valiantly to reach its mother who was patrolling back and forth a short distance offshore. The level of desperation was high as the little guy charged the net hoping to break through and escape. Unfortunately the situation became really tense as this behaviour threatened to entangle the animal in the net and, indeed, he did become caught. As you are aware porpoise are good at holding their breath, but, in the end, they need air too.
We hurried into the weir and desperately tried to disentangle the little calf as it struggled to avoid us and escape. I remember the pleasure I felt when, after hauling in yards of net, I was able to reach down, grab the tail and pull the youngster into the boat. As I laid it in the bottom of the skiff, it took one look at me hovering over it, sucked in a huge deep breath, held it, and closed its eyes as tight as it could! And it wasn’t coming out!
We quickly tagged the calf as we moved out of the weir and with great concern placed it in the water; all the while our little friend was attempting to pretend that none of this was really happening! With 2 flips it was gone. We watched and we waited. Finally, the calf surfaced and circled near its mom, they reunited, and slowly moved off along the surface.