It’s National Dolphin Day, and while he’s not known worldwide today, there was a time when a dolphin called Pelorus Jack was famous for allegedly escorting ships off the coast of New Zealand.

This is one of those stories where the facts are surrounded by lots of claims and legends and half-truths.

As Today I Found Out noted, we don’t even know for sure whether Pelorus Jack was a he.

But we do know that in 1888, people spotted a Risso’s dolphin in an area called Cook Strait, which is between New Zealand’s north and south islands.

People took notice because it wasn’t common for a dolphin to be there.

They also took notice because it seemed to swim alongside ships almost anytime they came through the area, much more consistently than typical dolphins.

And over time, people concluded that the dolphin was guiding ships through what was often a difficult stretch of water.

Magazine articles from this era describe Jack as gleefully gliding through the water and helpfully showing the ships where to go.

According to some accounts, ship captains wouldn’t travel through the strait at all unless Jack was there to guide them.

Whether or not this actually happened, the story got lots of attention and even brought some travelers, like Mark Twain, who wanted to see Jack for themselves.

And after the dolphin was spotted with some kind of scar, there were calls for laws to protect him.

There are lots of stories about how he got hurt.

Supposedly someone threw a harpoon at him, or shot him, and in some stories when they realized what they’d done they were mortified.

In other versions, a disgruntled Jack survived the injury but then stopped guiding ships through the strait, which led to tragic shipwrecks.

Or some stories have it that he succumbed to old age.

Whatever the actual facts, Jack became a New Zealand legend, as well as the subject of multiple songs and even the namesake of a candy bar.

And, I guess, now the focus of a podcast episode.

Today in Louisiana, it’s day one of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.

Ponchatoula bills itself as the Strawberry Capital of the World, so no surprise that the three day event includes multiple strawberry eating contests.

But there’s also music, a parade, an egg toss and a pageant to name a new Ponchatoula Strawberry Queen.

The Truth About the Legend of Pelorus Jack (Today I Found Out)

The story of Pelorus Jack (Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival

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Photo by Capt. C. F. Post, of the N.Z. Govt. SS Tutanekai, via Wikicommons