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  Field Notes From
Harbor Porpoise Rescue

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Harbor Porpoise Rescue On AssignmentArrows

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From Author/Photographer

Bill Curtsinger

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Heather Perry


Harbor Porpoise Rescue

Field Notes From Author/Photographer
Bill Curtsinger
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    I returned to the Bay of Fundy in 2001, two years after the original fieldwork, to try and get some better underwater images of harbor porpoises. As luck would have it, visibility was much improved and there were more porpoises around than ever. One day it all came together with plenty of ambient light, great visibility, and porpoises swimming right by me. I knew I was finally getting what I had dreamed about in 1999. For the first time I was photographing a secretive marine mammal few people had ever seen in its underwater world. This last effort resulted in the lead image for my story.

    As I gazed through the soupy plankton-rich waters of the Bay of Fundy during the first field season, I realized that the possibility of getting a decent underwater image was slipping away. Time after time I would be a few feet from a porpoise, but all I could see was a blurry ghost-like creature streaking by. Underwater photography of a free-swimming animal was impossible in those conditions. During the second field season so few porpoises returned inshore that opportunities for the biologists to do any science hardly existed, much less a chance for me to find subjects. The scientific team advised me to try again the following year. With that I almost gave up the whole notion of getting anything worthwhile underwater.

    One afternoon harbor porpoise biologist Andrew Westgate asked if I could help retrieve porpoises trapped underwater in a herring weir. That required me to set aside my cameras—not an easy thing for any photographer. But I left them in the boat and joined the other swimmers in the frantic effort to free porpoises. When one animal struggled below me at about 20 feet (six meters), I swam down, freed it, and brought it to the surface alive and well. We eventually released it to swim wild and free in the Gulf of Maine. For a few minutes I felt more like a real porpoise biologist than a photographer.

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