Moko, a solitary bottlenose dolphin who played with humans off New Zealand beaches for three years, is believed to have died, according to conservation department officials on Thursday.

They said a dead dolphin found washed up on Matakana Island, near Mount Maunganui, on the east coast of the North Island, on Wednesday was probably Moko, whose antics were reported around the world.

“Based on the size, markings and teeth of the carcass, we think that this is Moko,” Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger Jamie Quirk told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Quirk had worked with the solitary male dolphin since the animal began entertaining beach goers off the Mahia Peninsula in 2007 and was dubbed Moko.

The playful animal was a familiar sight off beaches around the port city of Gisborne, where he delighted in tipping surfers off their boards and stealing paddle boards from teenagers before following a fishing boat north to the Bay of Plenty earlier this year.

He was seen at Pilot Bay, Mount Maunganui, on June 3, but had not been spotted for two weeks and conservation department staff were worried.

A strong clue to his identity was that Moko was found during an examination earlier this year to have lost eight teeth, possibly from playing with anchor or mooring chains or ropes.

Local DOC manager Andrew Baucke said any number of factors could have caused Moko’s death and an autopsy would be held.

“This is a sad loss,” he said. “The way that Moko interacted with people really inspired public interest and care for dolphins and marine mammals and their environment in general.”