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Home arrow Events arrow Bell of the 'Busy Bee'
Bell of the 'Busy Bee' PDF Print
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Written by Wade Doak   
Friday, 28 October 2011
Sonny Wellington receives the Busy Bee's bell from Wade Doak

Just as humans have different faces so that we can tell one from another visually, in their world of sound each dolphin makes its own signature whistle. When Jan and I were researching dolphins with our specially rigged sailing catamaran R.V. Interlock back in the seventies, we needed some way of matching this, by making a distinctive sound with each dolphin meeting. This, we hoped, would show we were with it in getting to know the different pods we were encountering. Then we met a Ngunguru motel owner with a dolphin story.

Bill Shanks was crewing on the Tutukaka fishing-boat Busy Bee when it was servicing a huge experimental trap net up at Whale Bay. One morning they found a big bottlenose dolphin in the net. To release it necessitated hauling the dolphin on board, but it did not resist in the least. They steamed three miles out, soothing it and pouring water over its skin. When set free it leapt clear of the water and vanished.

Next day as the Busy Bee left Tutukaka Harbour two dolphins met them off the entrance with a series of superb leaps. One of them they recognised as the dolphin they had liberated the day before: a nick made by a rope in the rear base of the dorsal fin.

I showed Bill our first bottlenose pictures. That was how we came to name that big dolphin Busy Bee.

After publishing a description of this dolphin in a diving magazine in April 1979, we received a report from skindiver Alan Morrison. He had seen Busy Bee at Great Barrier Island: "In the evening of 10 January 1979 at the entrance to the small cove on the north side of Rakitu Island off Great Barrier, members of our diving club met three large dolphins. The two big ones were apparently copulating. We snorkled with them for half an hour. One of the large dolphins had the top of his dorsal missing. Another appears to be your Busy Bee dolphin and the smaller of the trio has a nick from the tail and a small spot on its dorsal."

A short while later - on 22 January Jan and I sighted these same three dolphins on the Tutukaka stretch of coast, fifty miles to the north and took pictures of them on our bows.

Subsequently the fishing vessel Busy Bee was wrecked in the far north with the loss of two lives. The bell was given to R.V. Interlock. This is the bell we rang whenever we met dolphins. It covered many miles of ocean dangling from our bowsprit.

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