Pelorus Jack – The real hero which almost nobody knows

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Pelorus Jack … have you heard that name before? No? I also, till few moments ago.

Pelorus Jack was a hero. And a very special too.

It was end of the 19th Century in New Zealand. The steamer churned its way through the sea. Especially in New Zealand there is a very dangerous place, the Cook Strait. It is the strait between the North and the South Island and one of the most tumultuous sea lanes in the world.

In the strait the ships have to fight with shoals, treacherous currents, underwater rocks and wild water eddies and the sea swallowed several ships this time in this region. The strait was at this time feared by sailors, not without reason, as I just mentioned. But it was the shortest route to get through between the islands. Particularly between Wellington and Nelson.

But then, in 1888, Pelorus Jack appeared. Neither his previous history nor his age can I find somewhere. But therefor his acts. Because no ship he accompanied ever suffered damage. He quickly became known among the sailors and the local people. He became the patron saint and at the beach of Wellington is now even a statue with the enumerations of Jack’s tremendous achievements.

This all doesn’t sounds really exciting yet? That’s because I’ve saved the best till now … Pelorus Jack was a dolphin! … Correctly, a dolphin! Specifically, an approximately 13 feet Risso’s dolphin. He was white with gray stripes and a round, white head. This species is actually not seen there before and there were only 12 ever seen there.

He appeared for the first time in 1888 and accompanied the schooner Brindle, who just crossed the French Pass. Since then, he has been seen more and more often, and he accompanied the ship for a while … usually around 20 minutes. As mentioned, to not even one ship happened something, when he was present.

Unfortunately I can find no evidence that the captains navigated to the Dolphin or not. If not, then someone could might that it is a single giant coincidence which ever happened. But if the captains should be followed the dolphin, that would be something for which I find just no words. Assistance, charity, friendship and indescribable cooperation would be the first words to me which would come to my mind. If anyone has this information, please post in the comments below.

Anyway, Pelorus Jack was a part of New Zealand’s waterways. The sailors waited in some cases even for the dolphin, that he accompanied and protected them.

Jack escorted the passenger steamer Penguin (see above) in 1903, as a drunken Passier shot with a rifle on the dolphin and wounded him on the dorsal fin. The crew of the steamer had to be prevented by force not to lynch the shooter.

It was feared that Jack was killed, when he didn’t show up for the next two weeks. Fortunately, he recovered himself. But he never accompanied the steamer Penguin again. The steamer sank on 12 February 1909, after it ran aground on a submerged rock. 72 passengers lost their lives and it was the heaviest maritime disaster in New Zealand in the 20th Century.

After the assassination of Jack, New Zealand adopted the Sea Fisheries Act on 26 September 1904. Which put Pelorus Jack under protection. So this is likely the first living creature of the ocean which was protected by law.

Jack leaded the ships for a few more years through the Cook Strait. Until 1912, the last time that he accompanied a ship on its trip. Then he took his own journey … wherever it was leading him…

In addition to the Wellington Monument on Beach, a Scottish National Dance was named after Pelorus Jack and the shipping company Interislander has him in the logo – in memory of the dolphin

I write about this story because I think that hardly anyone knows this hero… and that’s really a shame! Now might a few more know about him … although not many read my blog. So I would be glad if you could click on top of the page on the Facebook Like button or post on Twitter … that more people know from Jack and of its great history.

Even for me is less the fact important that he stood and directed the vessels, as more the fact THAT he did it. Why did he do it? Was he lonely and looking for friends? Or he liked the boats so much that he just liked to be with them? Or was he so intelligent that he knew exactly how dangerous the sea road for the people was? Let us not forget that a dolphin has a larger brain than humans! You could by no means have more intelligent than we want to believe.

Probably I will never get an answer on these questions… unless Jack is 150 years old. But maybe we can stop soon the dolphins hunt and become instead close friends with them and try to understand them (without cutting them).

That is a good point at the end. Thanks to Hans Peter, who took my aware to Jack and who is just in Taiji (Japan) to fight for the dolphins, which are caught and slaughtered there annually. Except for those who have the “luck” to be deported to a zoo so that the humanity can “delight” them.

I also wish to thank New Zealand that they adopt the Sea Fisheries Act to protect these hero.


PS: Just got the message that there is even a short video footage:

Tagebuch(t) Taiji von Hans Peter Roth für OceanCare
Coverimage above

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