NZ police inquire into attack on dolphin

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Police in New Zealand are inquiring into reports that a boisterous teenage dolphin with a reputation for stealing surfboards and balls from swimmers has been attacked with a paddle after annoying a canoeist.

Named Moko, the solo bottlenose dolphin has spent the past three years swimming with people on North Island’s east coast, pushing them out to sea on surfboards, even leaving one woman stranded on a sea buoy when he stole her surfboard.

He’s also overturned kayaks, tipped over water skiers and even interfered with surf lifeguard training.

Last week Moko went missing from his usual haunts, only to resurface 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the north amid reports the 550-pound (250 kilogram) dolphin had become boisterous with people out paddling in traditional-style Maori canoes.

Some paddlers reported being blocked from coming to shore by Moko on Wednesday and Department of Conservation staff had reports that a woman hit the dolphin with a paddle, possibly cutting his skin.

New Zealand law protects sea mammals from harassment, with offenders facing fines of up to 30,000 New Zealand dollars ($22,200) under the Marine Animals Protection Act.

Conservation department regional manager Andy Bassett said Friday that his staff had found Moko near Whale Island in the Bay of Plenty area “back to his usual antics, which tells us he’s OK.”

“We’ve been in the water with him and he hasn’t suffered any injuries. But police are still investigating the alleged assault on him,” Bassett told The Associated Press.

There have been fears people might become annoyed by Moko, “a big, boisterous, playful teenage dolphin who’s very strong,” and strike out at him, he said.

“Our message is … people should treat Moko as a wild animal, with respect, and get out of the water if they’re not happy,” he said, adding swimmers should not get out of their depth with him.

At least half a dozen people earlier needed rescuing by lifesavers, among them two 12-year-old girls who were “mugged” by Moko for their surfboards and a 16-year-old surfer who was stranded far from shore after his board was stolen by the frisky mammal.

In December, surf clubs at his old haunts near the seaside town of Gisborne set up a “dolphin watch” minders group for Moko after reports of teenagers punching and hitting the mammal.

Human-friendly dolphins in New Zealand’s past have not fared well. One named “Pelorous Jack” who followed passenger ferries in the Pelorous Sound area of South Island was run down by a motor boat, while “Opo” from the North Island west coast town of Opononi was found shot dead.