Friday, January 21, 2011

Heroes and Wonders: A Tribute to Moko

Some of you may remember hearing the amazing story of Moko the New Zealand Dolphin a few years ago.
Moko is no longer with us, having died in 2010, but I wanted to share the story of another one of GOD'S wonders. Here it is below, as previously printed:

How Moko the Dolphin Gave Humans A Master class  In Saving Stranded Whales (from The Sunday Times-London)
April 13, 2008

Moko the dolphin had already won over humans at Mahia Beach, where she plays with swimmers in the New Zealand surf and pushes kayaks along with her snout.
Now the friendly bottle-nosed has shown her empathy for other species, by saving two whales from almost certain death after they became stranded.
Human attempts to guide the two pygmy sperm whales through a narrow escape route from the beach had consistently failed, and all seemed lost until the dolphin intervened.
Moko, a regular visitor to Mahia Beach on the east side of North Island, appeared to communicate with the whales before guiding them to open water.
Malcolm Smith, a field worker for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, said that he had almost given up and was contemplating killing the whales to prevent further distress, until Moko arrived.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was like she grabbed them by the flipper and led them to safety. We worked for over an hour to try to get them back out to sea . . . but they kept getting disorientated and stranding again.”
The whales — a three metres (10ft) long female and her 1.5-metre male calf — had been unable to negotiate a sand bar that was blocking their way to deeper water.
Mr Smith was alerted to the whales’ plight early on Monday morning by a neighbour. “Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore,” he said.
“I was reaching the stage where I was thinking, it’s about time to give up, I’ve done as much as I can. The whales were getting tired and I was getting cold when Moko turned up. She just came straight for us and escorted the two whales along the beach and out though the channel.”
He heard Moko and the whales making noises before they departed, he said. “The whales were on the surface of the water quite distressed. They had arched their backs and were calling to one another, but as soon as the dolphin turned up they submerged into the water and followed her.”
Moko led the whales 200m along the beach and once they reached the end of the sand bar, Moko turned a right angle through a narrow channel and led the whales to safety.
Rescued whales often return to the site of their stranding, but Moko’s actions appear to have had long-term success. “She obviously gave them enough guidance to leave the area because we haven’t seen them since,” Mr Smith said.

“What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales.”
Mark Simmonds, director of science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said that bottle-nosed dolphins are renowned for their ability to empathise with humans and other animals. “The whole notion that a bottle-nose dolphin would have shown the whales the way out is completely possible,” he said.
“Dolphins have got the ability to plan, to think ahead, to persuade others to take part. They almost certainly do not have a common language with pygmy sperm whales, but they would understand that the whales would have been at risk of stranding. The first thing a dolphin does when it has a calf is to push it to the surface so it can breathe.”
Dolphins are known to swim in mixed groups with some species of whale to protect themselves from predators, so it may not have been unusual for the animals to associate with one another, he said. He is aware of one instance of a bottle-nosed dolphin — nicknamed Dave by locals in Folkestone, Kent, where the female creature is a regular sighting — playing with a seal.
Moko has become famous for her antics at Mahia, which include playing in the surf with swimmers, approaching boats to be patted and pushing kayaks through the water with her snout. Once she had assisted the whales she immediately returned to the beach to play with local residents.
Such close interaction with humans is rare among dolphins but not unknown. Mr Smith said: “She’s become isolated from her pod obviously for one reason or another, but made Mahia home just at the moment.”
Up to 30 whales become stranded on Mahia Beach every year, most of which have to be put down.
“I don’t know if next time we have a whale stranding we can get her to come in again. She certainly saved the day for us and the whales this time.”