Moko, the solo bottlenose dolphin, may have won the hearts of New Zealanders with her playful antics, but fears are growing for her safety.
"Moko has undoubtedly captured the hearts of Kiwis, but she is in danger of getting hurt if she isn't treated with respect," says Project Jonah Chief Executive Kimberly Muncaster.
Moko has been visiting Mahia off the East Coast since March last year and has now taken to bringing fish to people and playing with toys swimmers bring her.
“Pictures of dolphins in captivity give people a false understanding of these animals,” Kimberly says. “Although Moko is actively seeking human company, she’s a wild animal, not a trained performer.”
Bottlenose dolphins can be unpredictable and sometimes aggressive – both to each other and to humans. Over the years, people have been bumped, rammed and bitten by dolphins, walking away from their close encounter with cracked ribs, internal injuries and painful bruises.
At the same time, dolphins can be accidently hurt or injured by over-zealous swimmers or boat drivers.
Whilst dolphins are strong and agile, they also have incredibly delicate skin. Fingernails, rings and watches can gauge chunks out of them and diseases can be passed from human to dolphin, and vice versa. Flippers or fins can be easily dislocated, particularly if people drag, pull or hold on to them.
Click here to find out more about bottlenose dolphins.