Pelorus Jack was a dolphin famous for meeting and escorting ships through a stretch of water in 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 in the North Island and Nelson in the South Island.
Pelorus Jack was approximately 13 feet (4 m) 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 guided the ships by swimming alongside a watercraft for 20 minutes at a time. If the crew could not see Jack at first, they often waited for him to appear.
Pelorus Jack was first seen around 1888 when the dolphin 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 the captain’s wife talked 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. With rocks and strong currents, the area is dangerous to ships, but no shipwrecks occurred when Jack was present.
Many sailors and travellers saw Pelorus Jack, and he was mentioned in local newspapers and depicted in postcards.
In 1904, someone aboard the SS Penguin tried to shoot Pelorus Jack with a rifle. Despite the attempt on his life, Pelorus Jack continued to help ships. According to folklore, however, he no longer helped the Penguin, which shipwrecked in Cook Strait in 1909.
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.
Following the shooting incident, a law was proposed to protect Pelorus Jack. He became protected by Order in Council under the Sea Fisheries Act on 26 September 1904. Pelorus Jack remained protected by that law until his disappearance in 1912. It is believed that he was the first individual sea creature protected by law in any country.
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1966), edited by A. H. McLintock.
“We are not merely to tell the child[ren] about these creatures of God’s. The animals themselves are to be his teachers.” Child Guidance, 58, 59.
If God can use a dolphin to guide ships through troublous waters, He is able also to guide all who put their trust in Him through any rough experience.
“Balaam owed his life to the poor animal he had treated so cruelly. The man who claimed to be a prophet of the Lord was so blinded by covetousness and ambition that he could not discern the angel of God visible to his beast. …
“Few realize as they should the sinfulness of abusing animals or leaving them to suffer from neglect. The animals were created to serve man.” From Eternity Past, 313.