Moko: A New Zealand Icon


Moko was a well known wild-friendly dolphin who was known to interact with beach goers in New Zealand. (Photo by Johannes Okubo)

Moko was juvenile male Pacific bottlenose dolphin who was known to be very friendly around humans off the coast of New Zealand. Born around 2006, he had associate with humans on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island for three years. While little is known about his early life before his association with people, we can assume that first year of life, Moko was likely in the presernce of his mother and birth pod. Normally, most young dolphins will stay with their mothers until they are at least six years old, but Moko was a year old when he was sighted alone in New Zealand’s Mahia Beach where his interactions with humans began.

Moko first made international headlines in March 2008 when he was seen helping two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and her calf, back out to sea after they got trapped between a sandbar and the beach where they stranded. The two animals were found by a local man who told his neighbors and a department of conservation worker before they spent nearly two hours trying to refloat them with no success. However, just as the group was about the make the decision to euthanize the mother-and-calf pair, Moko apporached the distressed whales and led them through a narrow of channel that eventually led them back out to sea.

During his time in Mahia, Moko became known as an international celebrity with a reputation for interacting with beach goers. (Screenshot from 3News New Zealand documentary, “Loved to Death: Moko the Dolphin’s Story”)

After word went out about Moko’s heroric rescue efforts on two pygmy sperm whales, beach goers began to interact with him in the water. It all started when a local woman named Kristie Carrington started looking after Moko after she got in the water with him for the first time, over time, she and Moko started to form a bond together. As word on Carrington’s encounters with Moko was out, many people wanted to have that same chance to encounter him as she did. So, she would start allowing a small group of people interact with him in the water during their time at Mahia Beach. For Carrington herself, she saw that Moko’s interactions with human swimmers was beneficial for him even though there were dangerous risks that were involved. For example, there had been a number of reports of Moko getting aggressive towards swimmers on numerous occasions, which is not uncommon in wild-friendly dolphins. In addition, there has been at least one report of a woman in the Bay of Pleanty hitting Moko with a canoe oar. As a result, marine biologists began to become concern about his welfare which was followed by a study in which he was found to have had scars from boats and a fish hook. A number of organizations have tried to inform the New Zealand public to give animal space in all hopes he would reunite with his own kind one day.

Sadly, on July 7th, 2010, Moko was found dead in Matakana Island, New Zealand. Although his cause of death is unkown, some experts believe that he likely died from drowning in set nets. He would go on to become the 15th known wild-friendly dolphin to have either died or injured as a result of human interactions. After his necropsy, Moko was buried under Maori tradition on the same island where his body was found.  Since his death,  he had been declared as one of Time Magazine’s top ten heroic animals and his life has been the subject of a TV documentary in New Zealand.

 

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