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Pelorus Jack

From Openwaterpedia

noun - Pelorus Jack (fl. 1888 – April 1912) was a Risso's dolphin that was famous for meeting and escorting ships through a stretch of water in the Cook Strait, New Zealand, between 1888 and 1912. Pelorus Jack was usually spotted in Admiralty Bay between Cape Francis and Collinet Point, near French Pass, a notoriously dangerous channel used by ships travelling between Wellington and Nelson.


Pelorus Jack was protected by New Zealand law, the Order in Council under the Sea Fisheries Act on 26 September 1904. It is believed that Pelorus Jack was the first individual sea creature protected by law in any country.


Pelorus Jack was approximately 13 feet (4 meters) long and was of a white color with grey lines or shadings, and a round, white head. Although its sex was never determined, it was identified from photographs as a Risso's dolphin, Grampus griseus. This is an uncommon species in New Zealand waters, and only 12 Risso's dolphins have been reported in that area.


Pelorus Jack would guide the ships by swimming alongside a water craft for 20 minutes at a time. If the crew could not see Pelorus Jack at first, they would often wait for him to appear.

Pelorus Jack was first seen around 1888 when it appeared in front of the schooner Brindle when the ship approached French Pass, a channel located between D'Urville Island and the South Island. When the members of the crew saw the dolphin bobbing up and down in front of the ship, they wanted to kill him – but, fortunately, the captain’s wife was able to talk them out of it. To their amazement, the dolphin then proceeded to guide the ship through the narrow channel. And for years thereafter, he safely guided almost every ship that came by. The area is dangerous to ships with rocks and strong currents but no shipwrecks occurred when Pelorus Jack was present.

Many sailors and travellers saw Pelorus Jack and he was mentioned in local newspapers and depicted in postcards.

Pelorus Jack was last seen in April 1912. There were various rumours connected to his disappearance, including fears that foreign whalers might have harpooned him. However, research suggests that Pelorus Jack was an old animal; his head was white and his body pale, both indications of age, so it is likely that he died of natural causes.

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