She’s American, an inductee of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, a surfer, artist and environmental activist, and lives part-time in Raglan.
Now, Peggy Oki, who has been helping out with Maui Dolphin Day in Raglan for the past 12 years, has brought her whales and dolphins ambassador programme for children to New Zealand for the first time.
Last week, 15 Raglan young conservationists took part in the Maui’s Dolphin Ambassador Programme, which Peggy adapted from her teachings in Santa Barbara, where she is from.
Supported by WWF and the Whaingaroa Environment Centre, it was an extensive programme, running from Monday to Friday, and included homework.
“So many things are threatening whales and dolphins, there is a lot to cover,” says Peggy, who describes her tireless work as an activist for cetaceans as her “crazy passion”.
The students learned about whales and dolphins, including how to draw and paint them; threats to their survival; how to promote the conservation of whales and dolphins; and threats to Maui’s dolphins and what can be done to save them.
“It’s pretty grim,” says Peggy, of the plight of our endemic dolphin, the world’s rarest and smallest known subspecies of dolphin, which is only found down the west coast of central North Island.
Current Department of Conservation figure puts the Maui’s dolphin population at 55, from a census in 2012. The previous estimate was 111 dolphins, from a 2005 census. In May 2015, estimates suggested that the population had declined to 43-47 individuals, of which only 10 were mature females.
Threats to the dolphins include set-netting, trawling and offshore mining and drilling.
“It’s pretty sad seeing the reports coming in about the deep sea disaster (Deepwater Horizon oil spill) in the Gulf of Mexico (in 2010). There are still reports about dolphins washing up dead.
“And that could happen here. That was an exploratory programme and that’s what the Government has opened New Zealand to.”
Peggy’s obsession with whales and dolphins comes from being a surfer.
A skateboarder in the 1970s with the legendary Z-Boys, a competition team that revolutionised skateboarding with their aggressive surfing style inside empty pools, she next set her sights on the waves.
“I developed an interest in whales and dolphins in being a surfer, how we share that common place, in the ocean,” says Peggy, who first visited Raglan 36 years ago after watching Endless Summer.
“I think of them as our kin.”
She has gone on to spearhead many campaigns to save whales and dolphins.
Among them is the Origami Whales Project, in which a curtain of 38,000 whales have been created by concerned citizens in protest against the slaughter that continues despite a 1986 ban on commercial whaling. The curtain, which represents the number of whales slaughtered since the ban, continues to be added to.
Freeing Lolita is another campaign that breaks Peggy’s heart. Lolita is an orca that has spent the last 45 years in captivity in a small aquarium at Miami Seaquarium.
“It’s a huge goal,” she says, of her project called 16,425 Days a Slave. Her aim is to get 16,425 letters – the number of days in 45 years that Lolita has been held captive – from the public, pressuring Lolita’s owners for her release.
“They are just greedy, making millions out of her.”
Peggy also started up the Let’s Face It campaign in 2012, a visual petition to the New Zealand Government to take immediate measures to help save Maui’s dolphins from extinction.
A painter of all things whale and dolphin, and owner of a greeting card business that replicates her work, Peggy says “someone needs to be a voice for them”.
“I’ve got so much from them,” she says, of her paintings and love and appreciation for the sea mammals.
“I’m so inspired, I want to inspire others … to give back.”
She loves her work with children in her ambassador programmes.
“I like working with kids, they are so genuine and caring, they want to help.
“It’s really important to empower children.”
On Friday, Peggy and Raglan’s young ambassadors for Maui’s dolphins took to the streets of Raglan to make a three-minute video with film-maker Kevin (of Don’t Go To Raglan fame) for the Let’s Face It campaign.
They also painted pictures of Maui’s dolphins on the back of letters to Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, asking her to do all she can to help save them.