They came in their hundreds, carrying flowers and weeping at the sight of a small blue coffin.
But these mourners were not marking the passing of a popular relative or friend but the death of a dolphin named Moko.
The bizarre ceremony took place in a small New Zealand town a week after its world-famous four-year-old bottlenose died.
Moko hit the headlines after saving the lives of stranded pygmy and sperm whales off the coast of Whakatane two years ago.
He then became a popular tourist attraction, with locals likening his behaviour to that of a boisterous teenager.
Helping to bury the mammal in a silk-lined blue coffin during a traditional ceremony, Pouroto Ngaropo, a senior Maori, said: ‘He wasn’t just a dolphin to the people around here.
‘He was loved, he was respected, he was fun, he was taken in as one of the members of the community.’
The body was found washed up on a beach at Matakana Island a week ago and it was there that prayers, poems and speeches of remembrance were uttered before he was buried, a small cross marking the spot.
Not everyone loved the dolphin however, when he became rougher in his play, butting swimmers aggressively with his nose.
Female swimmers said they were concerned about what they believed was Moko’s strange attempts to mate with them and hurriedly left the water.
Fishermen were also left concerned after he started to attack their boats.
But he will be remembered more for his friendship than for his exuberance.
‘People have had a lot of enjoyment from interacting with him and learned lots about dolphins and cetaceans,’ said ranger Jamie Quirk.
‘He was a unique part of New Zealand history.’
The Conservation Department’s area manager, Mr Andrew Baucke, said Moko was a wild animal and his death could have been caused by any number of factors.
‘This is a sad loss,’ said Mr Baucke. ‘The way that Moko interacted with people really inspired public interest and care for dolphins and marine mammals and their environment in general.
While it is not known how Moko died, experts said his death may have been from natural causes.
Moko was not New Zealand’s first super-intelligent dolphin.
A Risso’s dolphin, named by his fans as Pelorus Jack, used to accompany ships travelling between Wellington, on the southern part of the North Island, to Nelson on the northern tip of the South Island.
He was first noticed in 1888 but when someone fired at him from a steamer in the early 1900s he became the first dolphin the world to be protected by law.
How he ultimately died was never established, with rumours ranging from him being killed by Norwegian whalers to him dying naturally.
Another famous bottlenose dolphin was Opo, who enjoyed playing with children in the 1950s. She was also buried in a traditional Maori ceremony.
Full story: Daily Mail