Porpoise spotting from land or water

The Oosterschelde National Park has several unique aspects, one of which is the best spots in all of Europe from which to spot porpoises. Want to go and catch a glimpse of these beautiful marine mammals? Make sure you bring plenty of patience and an eye for detail because this small toothed whale often emerges from the water for no more than a split moment. When you do see them, however, it is well worth the trouble. Seeing their triangular fin in the quiet water of the Oosterschelde (since they are most easily spotted when there is little wind and the water is quiet) is a fantastic experience. If you want to increase your chances of seeing them, the best way is to join a nature boat tour.

Bruinvisvinnen in de Oosterschelde
Nationaal Park Oosterschelde - Studio Bruinvis
Photo: Antonette Spaan

Take to the water with a nature boat tour

Whether on a big or small boat, a fast or a very old one, you will be able to join a nature boat tour on the waters of the Oosterschelde throughout the year for a chance to spot porpoises (and other animals). Whether you opt for a sailboat or a sailing barge, there is always an enthusiastic nature guide who is happy to tell you about the flora and fauna in and around the edges of the Oosterschelde.

The skin of a sea pig

Porpoises are the smallest and most common toothed whale in the North Sea. The Oosterschelde boasts a stable population of some 60 individuals.

Their name in Dutch, bruinvis or ‘brown fish’, is quite strange since they are neither brown nor fish. However, in the past every dark-colored fish that lived in the sea was called brown. In addition, porpoise calves drink mother milk just like humans, so they are (marine) mammals. In a more distant past the animal had an even stranger name, namely varkenvis (pig fish) or zeevarken (sea hog). They earned this name because of their thick layer of fat and rumbling sounds. Porpoises were often hunted in the past for their fat and meat, also in the Netherlands. Hence the common family name Varkenvisser (pig fisherman).

Nationaal Park Oosterschelde - Moederschip De Marjoes
Photo: Rederij Zeeland

A shared delicacy

Porpoises love anchovies, and they are not the only ones... If you also love this small fish and want to go on another marine adventure, you can board a ship to discover the fishing weirs in May and June. It is a unique opportunity to experience this centuries-old fishing method to catch the famous ‘Bergse ansjovis’. Fishermen use a very old technique to drive the fish into shallow estuaries when the tide is out. The tour makes for triple enjoyment: the wonderful old craft, beautiful nature around you, and the flavor of fresh anchovies.

Start your adventure on De Marjoes, which departs from the harbor at the Bergse Diepsluis in Tholen.

Listening from the dike

Along the Oosterschelde, you will find the only land-bound spots in the Netherlands to see porpoises. And they are the best spots in Europe! For the best possible view, put on your hiking shoes and climb the dike in Burghsluis, Zierikzee, Wemeldinge, Colijnsplaat, Wissenkerke, near the Plompe Toren or Goese Sas.

Let your ears do the work

To find their way underwater and catch fish, porpoises use sonar. They emit clicking sounds and the echo leads them to food or around obstacles. Unfortunately, humans cannot hear these clicking sounds, but there is an information pillar at the end of the pier in Zierikzee where you can listen to them. A hydrophone records the sounds underwater and transmits them to the pillar. So, this innovative pillar on Schouwen-Duiveland is a must-see if you want to understand porpoises better.

Bruinvissen speuren, te land of te water