The Incredible Story Of Pelorus Jack

Jamie Bishop | February 25th, 2019

Pelorus Jack was a Risso dolphin that swam around New Zealand, quite an uncommon species in these waters which was why he was noticed almost immediately. And he was a really an incredible dolphin, accompanying ships traveling between Wellington And Nelson. He would meet boats by the entrance of the Pelorus Sound and thus he was named Pelorus Jack.

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First spotted in 1888 he joined a steamer boat bound for Nelson and then he spent the next 24 years escorting boats from the Pelorus Sound to the treacherous French Pass. This was an extremely dangerous passage at the time: a very narrow stretch of water between the mainland and D’Urville Island. Water would surge through the narrow passage at up to 8 knots, and many boats had been sunk during this tricky passage.

But not when Pelorus Jack was leading the way, he would always remain in a well-defined area to ensure the ships followed the best route. He seemed to enjoy swimming up against the ships and rode the waves. And he would always swim with them for the 8 kilometers and then he would turn around and swim the other way.

Such a creature become an international celebrity, with stories and tales being told about Pelorus Jack all around the world. Writers like Mark Twain and Frank T Bullen wrote about this mythical dolphin, but his newfound celebrity came with a cost. Not only well-wishers would come searching for Jack, but there were also reports of people shooting at him in the 1900s. This led to huge demands for change in the laws of the Fisheries Act to include protection for Pelorus Jack – the laws currently only protected seals.

Pelorus Jack’s death is very mysterious, some believe he was harpooned by some Norwegian whalers who did not recognize him. And others have claimed he washed up on shore after dying of old age. But his legend lives on, with a number of songs being written to idolize him & even a chocolate bar.

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