Dolphin Saves the Whales
Despite Geraldine’s Ferraro’s possible claims to the contrary, there is no racism among cetaceans.
There’s a bottlenose dolphin called Moko who frequently splashes and plays with swimmers at Mahia Beach on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, in a region known as Hawke’s Bay.
Hawke’s Bay is sort of the Napa Valley of New Zealand. The region is famous for its wines and fine accommodations. The peninsula is a scenic reserve, complete with hiking trails and camping.
Moko the dolphin is a real-life “Flipper.” She plays with swimmers, pushes kayaks through the water, and comes close to boats so the people in them can pet her. Although dolphins don’t normally seem to be afraid of humans, interactions between humans and dolphins in the wild is fairly rare. Conservation Department workers speculate that Moko is isolated from her pod and gets her social contact through her interactions with the bathers and boaters off Mahia Beach.
Moko the dolphin does more than just play with the bipeds in Hawke’s Bay, though. She’s a true hero, and Monday she proved it.
On Monday, a 12-foot mother pygmy sperm whale and her 4-foot calf became stranded in a shallow area frequented by swimmers at Mahia Beach. Conservation Department workers did their best, but could not get the whales pointed in the right direction. They got a sling under the mother and the baby, pulled them off the sand bar, and pointed them to deeper water. The whales were frightened, though, and kept getting beached. They were apparently afraid of the shallow waters near the beach and could not find their way amid the many sand bars back to open water.
The animals kept getting beached on the shallow sand bars that surround the swimming area. The Conservation Department workers freed them four times, but each time the whales to become grounded again, unable to swim to deep water and safety.
Malcolm Smith, who had been in the chilly water trying to free the whales for well over an hour, described the rescue by Moko as “amazing.” “I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was at the stage where I was thinking it was about time to give up – I’d done as much as I could.”
Giving up mean euthanasia. If stranded whales cannot be freed and sent back into open water, the Conservation Department spares them the long, agonizing death that results from the whales being impossibly stuck on a beach or on a sand bar.
Suddenly, though, apparently in answer to the whales’ distress calls, Moko the friendly dolphin showed up. Juanita Symes, a Conservation Department worker and rescuer, told The Associated Press that “Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales.”
The dolphin and the whales communicated. The rescue workers saw Moko’s actions and heard her whistles, and heard the audible response of the pygmy sperm whales. Moko then led them about 200 yards along the beach, through a narrow channel, and out to the open sea.
London’s Daily Mail quoted Smith as saying, “Moko is a real heroine because there is absolutely no doubt she learned of the whales’ plight through some kind of telepathy and then got them out of trouble.” Moko led the whales about 200 yards parallel to the beach, then turned into a narrow channel the whales had not been able to find on their own. The whales followed Moko to open sea and have not been seen since in the Mahia Beach area.
The mother and calf were extremely lucky. Most of the whale strandings at Mahia Beach end up with the whales having to be euthanized. Perhaps when other whales become disoriented and stranded in the shallow waters, Moko will again come to the rescue.
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