Amazing Dolphins: the Porpoise Pilot

About an amazing porpoise who would help lead a ship through a dangerous waterway, steering it to safety.


French Pass, a dangerous water passage through the D'Urville Islands and off the coast of New Zealand, extends from Pelorus Sound to Tasman Bay. It is a shortcut for sailors, but a risky one, with deceptive currents and jagged underwater rocks. Back on a stormy morning in 1871, the schooner Brindle, out of Boston bound for Sydney, approached the passage. A blue-gray porpoise began jumping up in front of the ship, as though it were bidding it welcome. Some of the sailors thought it was a young whale calf and wanted to kill it. The captain's wife talked them out of it.

The porpoise seemed to be leading the way through the channel and the ship followed it, through deep water all the way, to arrive safely on the other side. From then on, the porpoise, nicknamed Pelorus Jack, would meet and pilot every ship that came through, every ship, that is, but one. In 1903, a drunken passenger on the Penguin hit Jack with a bullet. Though the crew wanted to lynch the passenger, the damage was done. Jack didn't show up for 2 weeks, but then came back, apparently no worse for the experience. However, after that he would never accompany the Penguin again. In 1909, the Penguin, long considered a jinxed ship, was wrecked in the passage with great loss of life.

In April, 1912, Jack vanished, never to be seen again.

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