JoJo the Dolphin – a Living Treasure
By Tristan Ralston on 30th July, 2020
When you mention the Turks and Caicos Islands, you can imagine yourself lounging on the world-famous Grace Bay Beach, looking out over the most abundant shades of turquoise anywhere, listening to the sound of the waves rolling in, and the smell of salty air filling your senses. That vision alone is enough to make anyone want to visit Turks and Caicos, but there is another alluring reason to book a vacation – JoJo the Bottlenose Dolphin.
The first sightings of this national treasure were in the early 1980s. A male Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin who was frequenting the crystal clear waters of Grace Bay had captured the attention and hearts of swimmers. It has been speculated that he was orphaned since he had no adult dolphins with him. Early on this dolphin would seek out swimmers and follow them and interact with them of his own free will. He would swim offshore and wait for them to show up so he could play, and was affectionately named JoJo…and his fame was born.
JoJo is approximately eight to nine feet long with an estimated weight of almost 900 pounds, and he has called the waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands his home for almost 40 years now. Based on the dates of the first sightings, his size at the time of those sightings, and other physical characteristics, it’s believed he was born in the late 1960s or early 1970s; making his age close to 50 years old.
In 1989 JoJo was awarded the status of National Treasure by the Turks and Caicos Government. JoJo is so much more than just a status symbol; he has become an ambassador for wild and free dolphins everywhere, and visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of him; or possibly an in-water encounter with him, generate millions of dollars in tourism for the country every year.
Identifying this handsome boy is very easy due to distinctive scars and imperfections he has acquired over the years. You will know you are in the presence of the King himself by these identifying features. The most noticeable are the numerous deep scars on his face, back, and sides caused mostly from contact with boat props. It’s believed he loves the jet-stream and bubbles caused from spinning propeller, which is why he chooses to swim right next to them. I think the next most defining characteristic is his left eye, which is half closed and most likely at least partially blind. Other identifying marks include his dorsal fin, which is missing the very tip and has a nick or cut on the back side; a fairly large piece of the tip of his left flipper is missing as well and the back side of this flipper is frayed a bit. The most recent scar came from a direct hit from a boat propeller in May 2018. This new scar is high on his right side behind his dorsal fin and is quite large and distinct.
Most visitors, and some residents alike, think JoJo is a loner who chooses only to interact with humans; but this is not the case. He has had, and still has, numerous family members that are with him regularly around the Turks and Caicos.
As the National Treasure, the focus of most publications is solely on “Him” or humans who have interacted with him, but as an ambassador for his species to be wild and free, it is important for the world to know he has a family and is not a lonely dolphin who has no contact with his own kind.
We were introduced to a woman named Jay Sargent, who has been swimming with and documenting JoJo’s life and family for twenty years now. During this time he has introduced her to more than 10 other dolphins and has seemingly made her part of his pod; herding her in with his family on swims. The bonds that Jay has formed with not only JoJo, but with his family, are very personal and true in nature, giving her a rare insight into these amazing animals and their lives.
The newest of these calves is a female named Scooter. Born to his mate Bo in late summer of 2018, Scooter is very playful and inquisitive. Another of his male calves thought to have been born in 2012 to Bo is Lemon Lips; named for the yellow coloration of his lips at the time.
JoJo had another mate named Raggedy Anne; whom Jay first met in 2012. In 2015 both she and Bo gave birth to calves, but sadly Raggedy Anne’s calf did not survive. She stayed around for a little while to help Bo raise her new calf Whizzer, and then she disappeared that winter and hasn’t been seen since.
Lemon Lips still comes to visit his mom and JoJo, and the greetings are very affectionate and exciting. They know each other and rub flippers and porpoise as a display of their happiness. For more information on Jay’s experiences with JoJo and family, visit her website www.jojoandjay.com
Another organization that has regular interactions with JoJo is Wake to Wake Watersports. JoJo appears to enjoy the wakeboarders and plays in their wake; leaping and jumping out of the water as if he were showing students the happiness of playing in the sea. When students and instructors are using the subwing, he playfully swims alongside or behind them. It’s very obvious he loves the interaction with humans when they fly through the water like a wild dolphin; he can’t help but join in the fun. Residents and visitors walk away from these experiences with a happy heart, smiling face, and awareness of how important it is to keep these amazing, intelligent animals in the wild where they are meant to be. Wake to Wake Watersports has a huge library of videos of JoJo’s interactions with them. One of JoJo’s babies even enjoys playing with their pup Zyzz. Baby dolphins are very curious and energetic, and this is evident in the interactions between them.
Being the frontline face of the “JoJo says NO campaign” is one of JoJo’s most important roles. This campaign showcases the importance of NEVER putting dolphins, or any cetacean, in captivity.
JoJo has a personality as big as his reputation! He is funny and mischievous, and at times cantankerous; but he is always what he was born to be…a wild and FREE creature living life on his own terms. Come visit the Turks and Caicos Islands and share his world, and possibly even encounter the one and only JoJo! A National Treasure like no other!!