It must rate near the top of rare and memorable experiences on offer in the Bay of Plenty - swimming with the country’s best known dolphin, Moko. The male bottlenose dolphin first became a major attraction at Mahia Beach on the East Coast, before moving to Gisborne in 2009.
He made headlines world-wide when he rescued two pygmy sperm whales, and then copped some bad press – accused in particular of bullying swimmers, preventing people from returning to shore.
But 250-kg Moko’s kept his nose clean lately, at his new home of Whakatane, with no reports of bad behaviour. Moko has been cruising the waters of the Whakatane Heads, West End at Ohope, and Otarawairere, continuing to interact with people.
Pictured: English visitors Becky Belcher (sunglasses) and Suzie Belcher with Moko.
(This great photo was taken by local photographer Andy Belcher of Legend Photography, Tel 021-444-830 or email firstname.lastname@example.org – Ed)
The Department of Conservation says it’s good to see that generally the public are enjoying interacting with Moko - a unique opportunity to see a marine mammal at close range. But DOC is urging people to use one of the local operators with marine mammal swimming or viewing permits. DOC’s local Field Centre Supervisor Fiona Hennessy says that if you want an ‘up close and personal experience’ with Moko that is safe, please consider using one of the permit holders.
‘We have three permit holders here in the Eastern Bay that not only will ensure Moko’s safety, but that of their swimmers. Moko is renowned for “borrowing” people’s boogie boards, surfboards and noodles - and if that’s what you or your child is depending on to keep you safe and afloat – there is a problem.
‘Diveworks, Whales & Dolphin Watch and White Island Tours all have marine mammal permits which DOC grants under the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations (1992). As part of the requirement to be granted a permit, these operators need to prove they run a safe business.
‘We’re so lucky to have Moko visiting us here in Whakatane, we want to ensure that the area is remembered in positive terms around Moko – not the place where someone was seriously injured - or someone injured our friendly dolphin.
‘Our message is simple, remember that he is a wild animal and his behaviour can’t always be predicted. Think about what if… if he pushes me off my board/kayak, will I be able to get back on? If he jumps on my fibreglass kayak or canoe, could he break it? ’
DOC’s biggest safety concerns for Moko are around boat propellers and various tethering lines and nets. ‘If you are wanting to take a private vessel out to see him, ensure that within 300 metres you drop the boat speed to low, or no wake. If you regularly set a net and know that Moko is in the area, consider either not setting it while Moko is about, or ensure you are with it at all times. And if you are taking toys to play with him, please don’t take roped or stringed things. ’
Ms Hennessey says ‘make the most of our special friend while he is around our shores. But please carefully consider your actions. If you look after yourself properly, the chances are you will be looking after Moko too.’