Hundreds attend NZ funeral for boisterous dolphin

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Hundreds of mourners Friday marked the death of a teenage bottlenose dolphin who won hearts and sometimes annoyed New Zealand swimmers and surfers with his boisterous antics.

Moko’s body, placed in a blue coffin bedecked with flowers, was carried through a seaside town.

After a ceremony that drew more than 400 admirers, his casket was loaded on a charter boat that toured his favorite bays. He was buried privately on Matakana Island, where his carcass was found one week ago.

For three years, Moko was a familiar sight around the beaches of New Zealand’s eastern coastal city of Gisborne, where he swam among beach-goers and stole balls and surf boards. He received worldwide fame in 2008, when he guided two stranded pygmy sperm whales back to deep waters.

Not everyone was charmed, though. Moko was known for pushing surfers out to sea, even leaving one woman stranded on a buoy when he stole her board. He also overturned kayakers and water skiers.

Moko’s body was found a week ago on a beach on Matakana Island. The cause of death has not been determined, but post mortems have ruled out deliberate violence or a boat collision.

Initially, indigenous Maori contested the right to determine how and where Moko should be buried. They agreed after negotiations with New Zealand’s Ministry of Conservation to lay him to rest on Matakana.

Sand from his gravesite will be exchanged with sand from the Mahia peninsula on the North Island, which local Maori say will convey his spirit to the mainland.

Friday’s service was hosted by elders of a local tribe and involved prayers and speeches of remembrance.

Kirsty Carrington, who was appointed one of Moko’s official minders, described the dolphin as a “best mate and confidante.”