Pelorus Jack was a dolphin that was famous for meeting and escorting ships through a certain stretch of water in Cook Strait, New Zealand, between 1888 and 1912. Pelorus Jack was usually spotted in Admiralty Bay between Cape Francis and Collinet Point, near French Pass, a channel used by ships traveling between Wellington and Nelson, New Zealand.
Pelorus Jack is also remembered after he was the subject of a failed assassination attempt. He was later protected by a 1904 New Zealand law.
Pelorus Jack was approximately 13 feet long and was of a white colour with grey lines or shadings, and a round, white head. Although its sex was never determined, it was identified from photographs as a Risso's Dolphin, Grampus griseus. This is an uncommon species in New Zealand waters, and only 12 Risso's Dolphins have been reported in that area.
Pelorus Jack would guide the ships by swimming alongside a watercraft for twenty minutes at a time. If the crew could not see Jack at first, they would often wait for him to appear.
Despite his name, he did not live nearby Pelorus Sound; instead, he would often guide ships through dangerous passages of the French Pass. However, some local residents familiar with his habits claim that he never went through French Pass itself.
Pelorus Jack was first seen around 1888 when it appeared in front of the schooner Brindle when the ship approached French Pass, a channel located between D'Urville Island and the New Zealand mainland. The area is dangerous to ships with rocks and strong currents but no shipwrecks occurred when Jack was present.
Many sailors and travelers saw Pelorus Jack and he was mentioned in local newspapers and depicted in postcards.
Jack was last seen in April 1912. There were various rumors connected to his disappearance, including fears that foreign whalers might have harpooned him. However, research suggests that Pelorus Jack was an old animal; his head was white and his body pale, both indications of age, so it is likely that he died of natural causes.
In 1904, someone on a ship called "Penguin" tried to shoot Pelorus Jack with a rifle. Pelorus Jack continued helping ships, all except for the Penguin, which was later shipwrecked.
Following the unsuccessful assassination attempt, a law was proposed to protect Pelorus Jack. He became protected by Order in Council under the Sea Fisheries Act on 26 September 1904. Pelorus Jack remained protected by that law until his disappearance in 1912. It is believed that Pelorus Jack was the first individual sea creature protected by law in any country.