Friday, 26 August 2011


In the spring of 1910 the salmon fishing on the Estuary was slack with only two or three fish per tide being taken at Topsham but the fishermen were further frustrated by 'porpoises' making an appearance in the river and chasing the salmon, scaring them upriver. Moreover many of the salmon taken in the seines had savage bites on them. It would seem they were being porpoisely blemished.

'Porpoise' is a jolly word, being a contraction of the Latin porcus pisces, a pig fish.

There is, I learn, not a lot of difference between porpoises and dolphins. Sailors and fishermen tended not to discriminate between the species. It would seem they were all porpoises to most people. I wonder, therefore, if these reported porpoises of a century ago were in fact bottlenose dolphins like the ones who still draw an audience by leaping about and playing with the salmon off the Scottish coasts. If so it must have been fun watching them chasing the salmon up the Exe. I also wonder how far upriver they came and until how recently they were to be seen in the Estuary. More questions than answers I fear! Nowadays they do not seem to visit us.

Still, much though they are fun to watch, I don't suppose the poor, struggling Exe salmon fishermen were greatly amused by them.

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