Film focus on dolphin rescue
By Mike Dinsdale
Like many people around the world, English documentary maker Nick Stringer was fascinated by the story of dolphins saving Whangarei Heads lifeguards from a shark attack.
Now Mr Stringer and a four-man film crew from Big Wave Productions are at Ocean Beach filming a documentary-drama about the story for the BBC's Natural World series.
The Ocean Beach dolphin rescue made world headlines in November, 2004, after The Northern Advocate published the story of how seven dolphins surrounded a group of lifeguards and slapped the water with their tails to frighten off a circling great white shark.
Whangarei Heads Surf Lifesaving members Rob Howes and three teenagers - his daughter Nicky Howes, Karina Cooper and Helen Slade - were 100m out to sea on a training swim when seven dolphins herded them together, apparently protecting them from a three-metre shark.
The group spent the next 40 minutes surrounded by the dolphins before they could make it back to shore. The shark was spotted by Mr Howes and a fourth person, Matt Fleet, observing from an inflatable rescue boat - but none of the teens was aware of the shark while they were in the water.
The BBC crew will start filming the documentary at Ocean Beach tomorrow with shooting likely to take up to a week.
So why did these dolphins risk themselves to save the lifeguards?
"That's what's so fascinating. It raises questions about dolphin intelligence and behaviour," he said. "It has really captivated people's imagination. We hear lots of stories of dolphins coming to people's aid, but there are very few cases where we have witnesses - and so many witnesses.
"This was unique behaviour in circling the lifeguards and slapping their tails on the water. That's very typical of dolphins when they are herding fish (to feed) so they were clearly trying to herd the lifeguards all together, which has never been reported before."
The documentary is due to screen in the UK next September, but is likely to be seen in New Zealand before then.
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