The legend of Fungie: What is it about a 38-year-old dolphin that captured the imagination of the nation?

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ON the cusp of another national Covid-19 lockdown and with a Brexit trade deal poised on a knife edge, many people in Ireland were concerned about the fate of an elderly limelight-loving dolphin.

ocial media reports that Fungie – a male Common Bottlenose Dolphin – had vanished from waters off west Kerry and Dingle was greeted with national dismay.

So great was the concern in Dingle that boats took to the water on Thursday just to look for Fungie while the story itself threatened to break the Internet.

Concern about Fungie’s fate was raised in the UK, the US and even as far away as New Zealand.

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Fungi, Dingle's resident dolphin

Fungi, Dingle's resident dolphin

Fungi, Dingle’s resident dolphin

Fungi, Dingle’s resident dolphin

When Dingle fisherman Paul Hand said he was “1,000 per cent certain” he had spotted Fungie safe and well on Thursday, it was as if a wave of relief swept over Kerry and the nation.

“I saw him yesterday morning. There is a lot of feed around Dingle Bay at the moment. It is not common to see a lot of bottlenose dolphins inside the bay. Pods of them come from time to time and he mixes with them and he goes out to the bay during the summer and then comes back,” Paul said.

Fungie’s re-appearance even made social media satirical sites with Mallow News joking that Dingle Town Council had just released its Fungie Mark 25 dolphin back to the wild to ensure the future of the local tourism industry.

So precisely what is it about a dolphin at least 38 years old that captured the imagination of the entire nation? Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said the answer was very simple.

“If you close your eyes and you think about Fungie, the antics he gets up to in the bay and the faces he makes, it brings a smile to your face,” he said.

“God knows, that is what everyone in Kerry, in Ireland and in the world needs at the moment – to have a smile put back on their faces.”

“Every single person in Ireland has a share in Fungie. This isn’t just about Kerry.”

“Fungie is a reminder to us all of a happier world, a better place and a world without this virus.”

“That is why everyone was so upset when they heard that Fungie was missing. And it is why everyone heaved a sigh of relief and had a smile on their faces when they heard the news that Fungie was alive and well and still swimming off Dingle.”

“Fungie brings a smile to everyone’s face. That is why he means so much to people and why the Internet almost broke with the news that he was found safe and well.”

Award-winning Tralee photographer Dominick Walsh said the sight of Fungie and his antics have been the highlights of Kerry holidays for thousands of people for over 30 years.

A keen fisherman and sub aqua diver, Dominick has not only photographed Fungie but been privileged to have been diving when the curious dolphin approached and swam with them.

“I was diving once when there was bioluminescence in the water off Dingle. Then Fungie swam up to us and he was literally glowing in the water. It was absolutely magical and something I will never forget.”

“I wasn’t the least bit surprised that the story about Fungie going missing and then being safely found made headlines. I’ve seen the reaction when people are on holidays in Kerry and either take a boat out from Dingle harbour or just go swimming and then they are greeted by Fungie. They’re thrilled and it is clearly the highlight of their entire break. That’s what Fungie means to people.”

“Fungie is a wild creature – he belongs to no one, he is not trained and he is not fed. That is what makes his interaction with people so very special.”

Dingle fisherman and Sea Safari boat operator Jimmy Flannery said that, since 1983, Fungie has captured the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Jimmy is so fond of the dolphin that, back in May, he would take his boat out into the harbour twice a day at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown just to keep Fungie company amid fears the mammal could be lonely without his usual audience of admirers.

“Fungie was lonely alright,” he said.

“He followed the (commercial) fishing boats out but they didn’t have time for him. They were too busy heading to the fishing grounds.”
Fungie’s loneliness stemmed from the fact the entire leisure craft industry which sprang up around the dolphin’s antics off Dingle had been suspended because of the Covid-19 lockdown after March.

Without his normal array of admirers and photographers, Fungie had become lonely.

Jimmy noticed last May that Fungie wasn’t his normal self – and other Dingle fishermen agreed.

The fisherman said that Fungie had gotten used to company – and, like most stars, loved an audience and missed it when his fans weren’t around.

First spotted off Dingle in the summer of 1983, Fungie became a tourist sensation with his antics near leisure craft and his clear love of being watched.

Marine biologists were astounded at the manner in which the dolphin appeared to actively seek out human contact.

The lone male dolphin tends to prefer to operate on his own – but loves to interact with boats, fishermen and sightseers.

The dolphin routinely interacts with people on boats as well as swimmers, surfers and kayakers.

Fungie’s age is unknown but males generally live for between eight and 17 years.

However, in exceptional circumstances, dolphins have been known to live for almost 70 years.

Fungie has also contributed to marine science – with his taste for garfish off Dingle being the first recorded instance of dolphins eating the sleek fish also known as the Sea Needle.

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Source: Irish News