Marvellous Moko

Out of all the wonderful stories that I have ever heard or read about dolphins over the years, the story about Moko is a most remarkable one, and what started out as an ordinary day for Department of Conservation worker Malcolm Smith, certainly ended as a most extraordinary one.

It was 6am on the 10th of March 2008 at Mahia Beach which is the Northern end of Hawkes Bay, and dawn was just breaking when Malcolm Smith's wife Sue answered the door to her neighbour, whom while out walking with her three dogs, had spotted a pygmy sperm whale and her calf lying on the beach. So Malcolm headed down to where they lay, and started to roll the whale back into the water. Then a woman from the regional council (who was there to collect water samples), saw what was happening and said “Can I help?” and Malcolm said “Yes.” So she pushed the calf back into the water, while Malcolm resumed rolling the mother, so that they both headed out into the deep water at the same time.

However the mother whale was reluctant to swim in the third of a metre wave out into the ocean as there was a sand bar ahead of her. The woman left, and sometime later, on two separate occasions, two cray fishermen in two twelve foot aluminium dinghies, tried to help herd them out to sea, but they restranded themselves about six times. The mother was approximately three metres in length, and her calf was about one and a half metres. So as time ticked by, the whale and her calf gradually became more and more distressed, and the humans helping them were not only very wet, but shivering with the cold, tired and very upset that they couldn't get them safely back out to sea. 

The mother whale and her calf were calling to one another. They were all about to give up, and Malcolm started to think about shooting them, as the situation looked absolutely hopeless. Then a couple of people sitting up on the sand dunes shouted out “Moko's coming!!!” Moko the dolphin rapidly glided through the salty, white-crested, sapphire and emerald water and swam up close to the whales.

Malcolm believes that she answered the distressed calls of the mother and calf and came straight to their rescue. She circled around the whales, and then she guided them safely out to sea, by swimming about two hundred metres parallel to the shoreline, and then they all did a right angled turn out through a narrow channel between the headland and the sand bar.

This amazing dolphin had not only become a local, but national and international celebrity as Malcolm had newspaper, radio and television journalists from all around the world contacting him for her story. The dolphin who is somewhere between two and four years of age, was named after a headland that she frequents, and Moko means half tattooed face. In the summertime she often visits Mahia Beach from about eleven am and stays for up to six hours at a time as she likes to play with the children. Sometimes she comes up to where the craypots are, but never comes too close to the shore. One day when Malcolm was out in his dinghy she came up close and played with the oars, so that he couldn't leave.

Elizabeth Krammer
Fifty Seven years.
True Story?: