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1904 Order of Protection for Risso's dolphins, and photograph of Pelorus Jack | by Archives New Zealand
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1904 Order of Protection for Risso's dolphins, and photograph of Pelorus Jack

On 26 September 1904, an Order in Council was signed by Lord Plunket prohibiting harm to Risso’s dolphins in and around Cook Strait. This order was in response to an attempted shooting of the famous “Pelorus Jack” dolphin that frequented the area between 1888 to 1912. It is believed that it was the first individual sea creature protected by law in any country


Pelorus Jack was approximately 4 metres long and of a white color with grey lines or shadings. 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 became famous for escorting boats between Pelorus Sound and French Pass. Travelling back and forth for more than two decades, ‘Jack’ became a popular tourist attraction. People came from all over the world to catch a glimpse of him.


The dolphin featured in many publications, including on the cover of the Christmas issue of the 1910 London News. In 1911, James Cowan wrote a book about the ‘famous fish’. According to Cowan, local iwi Ngāti Kuia knew Pelorus Jack as the taniwha Kaikai-a-waro, who embodied the mana of their tīpuna.


Last seen in 1912, there were many rumours surrounding Pelorus Jack’s death. It is said that a man made an anonymous deathbed confession, claiming that he killed the dolphin. Pelorus Jack’s ultimate fate remains unknown. Today, he features in the logo for the Interislander ferry.


Archives references:

Title: Order Protecting "Pelorus Jack" Dolphin

Archives New Zealand Reference: AAQT 6539 W3537 Box 44 A21483


Photograph title: Pelorus Jack

Archives New Zealand Reference: AAQT 6539 W3537 Box 49 A30596


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Material from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga


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Uploaded on September 23, 2016