Pelorus Jack

Pelorus Jack
Pelorus Jack.jpg
Pelorus Jack in 1909
SpeciesRisso's dolphin
Years active1888–1912
Known forEscorting ships near French Pass
AppearanceWhite colour with grey lines or shadings; round, white head
Named afterPelorus Sound, in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Cook Strait is located in New Zealand
Cook Strait
Cook Strait
Location of Cook Strait

Pelorus Jack (fl. 1888 – April 1912) was a Risso's dolphin that was 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 and Nelson.

Pelorus Jack was shot at from a passing ship, and was later protected by a 1904 New Zealand law.


Pelorus Jack was approximately 4 metres (13 ft) long and was of a white color with grey lines or shadings, and a round, white head.[1] 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.[2]

Pelorus Jack. Photographed by A. Pitt.


Pelorus Jack guided the ships by swimming alongside a water craft for 20 minutes at a time. If the crew could not see Jack at first, they often waited for him to appear.

Despite his name, he did not live in nearby Pelorus Sound; instead, he would often guide ships through dangerous passages of French Pass. However, some local residents familiar with his habits claim that he never went through French Pass itself.[3]

Pelorus Jack was first seen around 1888 when it 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.[4]

Many sailors and travellers saw Pelorus Jack, and he was mentioned in local newspapers and depicted in postcards.

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.[2]

Since 1989, Pelorus Jack has been used as a symbol for the Interislander, a ferry service across the Cook Strait, and is incorporated into the livery of the ships in the fleet.[5]

Shooting incident

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.[6][7]


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.[3]

Cultural references

"Pelorus Jack" is a Scottish Country dance,[8] named in honour of the dolphin. This dance features a set of alternating tandem half-reels (or heys) where two people act as one but swap who leads at the reel ends, this is now known as a Dolphin Reel.[9]

Arthur Ransome mentions Pelorus Jack as accompanying ships and receiving protection in his 1932 novel Peter Duck. However, the character of Peter Duck incorrectly locates the dolphin as living in Sydney Harbour.[10] Singer/Songwriter Andrea Prodan tells the tale of the dolphin in the song 'Pelorus Jack' in his 1996 all-vocal record Viva Voce.

See also


  1. ^ "The Legend of Pelorus Jack". Archived from the original on 21 January 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  2. ^ a b Parkinson, Brian. "Unique Wildlife of New Zealand – Pelorus". Ecotours New Zealand. Archived from the original on 9 October 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2006.
  3. ^ a b Alpers, A.F.G. (1966). "Pelorus Jack". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 29 December 2006.
  4. ^ Robbins, John (2011) Diet for a New America H J Kramer, ISBN 9781932073416.
  5. ^ New Zealand's Cook Strait Rail Ferries, New Zealand Maritime Record
  6. ^ Pelorus Jack fact sheet Archived 21 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine at the Museum of Wellington
  7. ^ The Quest for Wild Dolphins
  8. ^ "Pelorus Jack". Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary. Retrieved 14 June 2018. (dance instructions)
  9. ^ Thompson, David Millstone and Allison. "The Dolphin Hey: The Evolution and Transmission of a Dance Figure". Country Dance & Song Society. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  10. ^ Ransome, Arthur. Peter Duck : a treasure hunt in the Caribbees (2006 ed.). Godine. p. 200. ISBN 0-87923-660-4.

Further references

  • Ross E Hutchins and Jerome P Connolly – The saga of Pelorus Jack (1971)
  • Edmund Lindop and Jane Carlson – Pelorus Jack (1964)

External links


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