For many years around the turn of the 19th / 20th century, a dolphin named Pelorus Jack guided ships through the French Pass, a channel through the D’Urville Islands off New Zealand. This dangerous channel is so full of rocks, and has such extremely strong currents, that it has been the site of literally hundreds of shipwrecks. But none occurred when Pelorus Jack was at work. There is no telling how many lives he saved.
Map of French Pass, New ZealandHe was first seen by human beings when he appeared in front of a schooner from Boston named Brindle, just as the ship was approaching French Pass. When members of the crew saw the dolphin bobbing up and down in front of the ship, they wanted to kill him - but, fortunately, the captain’s wife was able to talk 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. So regular and reliable was the dolphin that when ships reached the entrance to French Pass they would look for him, and if he was not visible, they would wait for him to appear to guide them safely through the treacherous rocks and currents.
On one sad occasion, a drunken passenger aboard a ship named the Penguin took out a gun and shot at Pelorus Jack. The crew was furious, and when they saw Jack swim away with blood pouring from his body they came close to lynching the passenger. The Penguin had to negotiate the channel without Pelorus Jack’s help, as did the other ships that came through in the next few weeks. But one day the dolphin reappeared, apparently recovered from his wound. He had evidently forgiven the human species, because he once again proceeded to guide ship after ship through the channel. When the Penguin showed up again, however, the dolphin immediately disappeared.
For a number of years thereafter, Pelorus Jack continued to escort ships through French Pass - but never again the Penguin, and the crew of that ship never saw the dolphin again. Ironically, the Penguin was later wrecked, and a large number of passengers and crew were drowned, as it sailed - unguided - through French Pass.
In the early 1900s People demanded that Pelorus Jack be protected by law, which led to a 1904 order in council (renewed twice before he died). Pelorus Jack had become a tourist attraction, drawing such well-known figures as American writer Mark Twain and English author Frank T. Bullen.