Pelorus Jack: The Dolphin Who Piloted Ships

The northern end of New Zealand’s South Island is a chaos of bays and sounds, and within this intricate coastline lies a narrow and treacherous stretch of water called the French Pass. Ships avoid it because the currents here are so strong that it can easily drag a vessel and smash it against the rocks. The very first European attempt to navigate through these narrows was a near disaster.

French Admiral Jules Dumont d'Urville was mapping the coast of the South Island in 1827 when he instructed his navigator to enter the pass. Situated between Rangitoto ki te Tonga, also known as D'Urville Island (after the Admiral himself), and the mainland coast, the French Pass saves about 15 miles of distance for those wishing to sail between the North and the South Islands. The alternative is to go around D'Urville Island and through heavy cross seas.

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Pelorus Jack

A Risso’s dolphin, the kind Pelorus Jack was of. Photo: Tory Kallman/


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