There’s a dicey stretch of water called Cook Strait near the entrance to Pelorus Sound in New Zealand. The narrow channel sits within a zone called the Roaring Forties, an area that sees strong winds funneling through a gap between two islands. This stretch of turbulent waters resulted in two of the worst sea catastrophes in New Zealand history.
For 24 years, though, beginning in 1888, sea captains in this perilous area had the "assistance" of Pelorus Jack, a male Risso's dolphin that would meet ships traveling between Wellington and Nelson, and seemed to guide them through these troubled waters (or at least keep them company). Jack became famous for swimming alongside boats and riding their bow waves for around 5 miles (8 km). He was so famous that the New Zealand government passed a law in 1904 protecting him after someone aboard the SS Penguin shot at him with a rifle.
The tale of Pelorus Jack:
- Photographic records indicate that Pelorus Jack was a Risso’s dolphin, a species that’s rarely found in New Zealand waters. The dolphin was determined to be male because of his overall size.
- After the attempted shooting from the SS Penguin, Jack never accompanied the steamer again. The Penguin sank after striking a rock at the entrance to Wellington Harbor in 1909, just five years after the shooting incident.
- Jack disappeared sometime in 1912. It’s not known what happened to him, but scientists think it’s possible he died of old age – though some think he was killed by Norwegian whalers, and others think he was killed after a storm washed him ashore.