Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Zealand News: Playful Moko heads north

Moko the dolphin may be looking for a new home and there is a chance beach-goers will never see him again.

The large bottlenose, who has attracted crowds in the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne while frolicking close to shore, is believed to have swum north to the Bay of Plenty.

A Department of Conservation official said Moko was coming into adulthood, and his search for a mate could see him swim to new coastline, or disappear altogether.

Last year the playful dolphin left Mahia, where he has been an attraction since 2007. He began showing up at Gisborne's Waikanae Beach, 80km north of Mahia.

He was so popular the Waikanae Beach Surf Life Saving Club, with guidance from DoC, organised minders to protect him from overly enthusiastic onlookers.

Surf Life Saving Club manager Gary Stevens said fishermen on a trawler had been playing with Moko on Wednesday, and the dolphin followed them the entire length of the East Cape. He may have travelled as far as Tauranga.

Mahia Beach resident Bill Shortt, a longtime observer of Moko, did not believe the dolphin was looking for a mate. "He's one of those rare, solitary dolphins. If he wanted a mate he'd have one by now."

He said the reason for Moko's departure from Gisborne was his attraction to the bright colours of fishing boats - Moko had moved from Mahia to Gisborne following a boat carrying orange buoys.

Mr Stevens said there was both sadness and relief that the dolphin had left Gisborne.

"He's a pain for watersports people, because he keeps disturbing their craft or stealing their paddles. Some people are pleased he's gone.

"But he's been a huge attraction. He's brought a lot of people into town. He just goes looking for the crowds. So he's liable to turn up at Mt Maunganui."

Moko's playful behaviour became increasingly aggressive over the past few months, with surfers and paddle-boarders suffering injuries while swimming with the dolphin.

But Mr Stevens said the suggestion that Moko was dangerous was "rubbish".

"The only aggression that we have seen is idiots doing things to him. Which is why we had lifeguards looking after him 10 hours a day."

A group of youths are being sought for an attack on the dolphin in December.

A fisherman has reported an encounter with a large bottlenose dolphin at an East Coast beach, adding weight to the suggestion that Moko is finding a new home in the Bay of Plenty.

John Clarke, from Taupo, was chased by the dolphin in Omaio Bay, northeast of Opotiki, on Saturday morning.

It was a similar size to Moko, with the same markings. The Department of Conservation could not confirm that Moko had reached the region, but his minders in Gisborne said the description was accurate.

Mr Clarke, 43, said he was fishing with his wife, Karina, 1.5km offshore when the ocean exploded.

"We saw this dark shape, it seemed 12 foot long under our 10-foot boat. I've never seen a dolphin that big." The dolphin chased his small aluminium speedboat, nudging it from behind.

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