Sunday, September 13, 2009


A lovely bottlenose dolphin has been delighting crowds at Mahia Beach, down along the east coast of the North Island for two and a half years. He's the stuff of legends, being credited with guiding two stranded pygmy sperm whales to safety.

I quote from newspaper reports:

Before Moko arrived, rescue workers had been working for more than an hour to get two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, back out to sea after they were stranded Monday off Mahia Beach, said Conservation Department worker Malcolm Smith.

But Smith said the whales restranded themselves four times on a sandbar slightly out to sea from the beach, about 480 kilometres northeast of the capital, Wellington. It looked likely they would have to be euthanized to prevent a prolonged death, he said.

"They kept getting disoriented and stranding again," said Smith, who was among the rescuers. "They obviously couldn't find their way back past (the sandbar) to the sea."

Then along came Moko, who approached the whales and appeared to lead them as they swam 200 yards along the beach and through a channel out to the open sea.

"Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales," Juanita Symes, another rescuer, told The Associated Press. "She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is. It was an amazing experience."

On the other hand his playfulness has come close to causing a tragedy. It was claimed he nearly loved a visitor to death.

"We were playing around for a while but then when I wanted to go back in, (to the beach) he just wanted to keep playing. I became exhausted and started to panic," the woman told the BBC. When she screamed, a local bar owner came out in a dinghy to rescue her.

Then Moko disappeared from Mahia Beach. But turned up a few days later 80km up the coast at Tolaga Bay (where Whale Rider was filmed). And there has been another newspaper report of his playfulness going a bit overboard.

The report says: "Seasoned ocean athlete Brian Wilson said the experience left him fearing for his life. He came across the dolphin about a kilometre off the beach as he was paddling in his outrigger canoe.

Delight in seeing the animal turned quickly to fear when he tried to return to shore.

“It was a fight to get back to the beach. He kept trying to turn me around. He threw me off a couple of times. I was starting to get scared that I would not be able to get in.”

Moko was charging up to the waka and Mr Wilson had concerns it might not hold together.

He has worked with dolphins at Marineland in Napier and has trained in the sea for the past three decades and says he has never seen one so huge.

“I just want to warn other people who might be going out to train or even swim. He was so strong, a smaller person might not have made it back to shore.”

He made slow progress as Moko kept turning him around. Then he caught a wave and got away.

The dolphin followed him into shallow water.

Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk said this behaviour was typical of Moko.

Sadly, though, Moko has now gone from this area, too. The experts are saying today that he's been like a teen-age school boy but is now moving into adulthood and has probably gone off to find female company of his own kind.

(I've lifted the photos from the Mahia website)


  1. I have friends in Napier who went up to Mahia to stay and saw him. To swim with dolphins must be an absolutely amazing experience. I've been in the sea with them in Australia at Shark Bay (yes, there are hundreds of sharks there) but never swam with them.

    What people forget is that dolphins, though one of the most amazing and wonderful creatures, are also fearsome hunters. We are just lucky that, for some reason, they like and trust humans. Strange when you think about it.

  2. What an interesting story. I'm sure the dolphin was just trying to keep the man from grounding himself ashore.


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