One of Ireland’s most famous residents, he arrived off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula 37 years ago. Since then, Dolphin Fungie has always stayed close and has become a star tourist attraction. But he hasn’t been seen in the past two weeks, and that has never happened. The Irish are in sack and ashes. The whole country is looking for him. Will they ever see Fungie again?
The male dolphin loves to seek out human company and enjoys playing with swimmers, surfers, divers, and kayakers. No wonder tourists come from far and wide to see it. The entire tourism industry has sprung up around Fungie, bringing pleasure boat holidaymakers to the playful dolphin in southwest Ireland’s picturesque bay.
But when, a few weeks ago, the dolphin was not seen for a few days, the locals started to worry. “This is really not for him. The longest we have ever seen him was four or five hours,” Jimmy Flannery, president of Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, told CNN.
Flannery, who has been organizing Fungie boat trips for 33 years, has been coordinating search teams since the alarm was raised. Two weeks after Fungie’s last confirmed sighting, boats still sail out every day – weather permitting – to search the rocky coast for signs of the missing dolphin’s life. At the harbor’s narrow mouth, where he spent most of his time, people scan the waves with binoculars to get a glimpse of his dorsal fin.
Yet hope is diminishing, and the search has now been put on the back burner. But the local residents continue to monitor the sea in their own way. “Fungie is part of our lives,” says Flannery. “We hope he just went on an adventure and comes back again.”
Flannery believes the corona measures may have played a role in the disappearance. During the Irish lockdown in March, April, and May, non-essential boat trips were out of the question.
“For the first time in 37 years, Fungie was out of the company when there were no more pleasure boats in the bay,” said Flannery. “Maybe he felt that something was wrong. Maybe he thought that the world was no longer the same place as it used to be, and he just left.”
All are speculations, of course, but biologists point to the dolphin’s advanced age. Fungie is over 37 years old, and male bottlenose dolphins have a life expectancy of between 30 and 40 years, according to scientist Simon Berrow. For Berrow, Fungie’s disappearance does not come out of the blue.
“It always will be – Fungie will one day no longer show up instead of washing up dead somewhere in Dingle,” says the biologist. In addition, older dolphins slow down and have a harder time gathering enough food.
Fungie always insisted on catching his own mackerel and pollock, which may have killed him. “He’s been getting a little slower lately, so he may not be able to catch them anymore,” says Michael O’Neill of the Dingle Boat Tours. “But he would never take a fish from you, not even a live one,” he told The New York Times.
“Economically, this is not good for us, but our main concern is how he is doing. It’s like losing a family member, this is our friend, our mascot,” explains Flannery.
“People find the thought that he might be gone for good heartbreaking. It does indeed feel like a family member has died,” agrees Caroline Boland of the tourist office. “This beautiful wild creature brought magic and inspired us.”
Mentally, people are having a tough time because another severe lockdown has been declared in Ireland. And now Fungie is also missing
At the local pub, owner Finn MacDonnell explains that news of Fungie’s disappearance has come in pretty hard. “Mentally, people are having a hard time because another lockdown has been declared in Ireland. And now, Fungie is also missing.”
“We all grew up with him. We knew there would come a day when he would be gone, but it is probably all worse than we thought it would be because of corona and the new measures,” MacDonnell concludes.