Fungie the Friendly Dolphin

Dingle, County Kerry

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Fungie the Dingle dolphin

Photo of Fungie by Dulup, licensed under Creative Commons

On a summer’s day in 1983, Paddy Ferriter looked out from the window of his lighthouse at Dingle Harbour. A fishing boat was making its way home, a bottlenose dolphin frolicking in its wake. Dolphins were not uncommon on the Kerry coastline, but few ventured this close to shore, and Paddy was sure he had seen this one before.

The dolphin soon became known as a regular in the area, and was christened “Fungie”. Visitors have wondered if this is an old Irish name meaning something profound, but it probably just stands for “fun guy”. Fungie is a playful creature who has an unusually close bond to humans. He rarely ventures far from Dingle, and has been adopted as a mascot by the town.

The tour boats leave the harbour all year round, weather permitting. They operate on a “no see — no pay” basis. Few boatmen lose money on this gamble, because the Dingle dolphin nearly always shows up. Over the years, hundreds of people have swum with Fungie, including celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan and Mary Black. An entire industry has built up around one playful animal.

Several theories have been proposed for the cause of Fungie’s affinity for Dingle and its people. Perhaps he was released from a marine park, which would explain his comfort with humans and disinclination to mix with his own species. Around the time of his arrival, the body of a female bottlenose was washed up dead; this may have been Fungie’s mate, and perhaps the dolphin couldn’t find the heart to leave after he lost her. In the late 1990s, Fungie had a fling with a younger dolphin named Smokey, but she left him for warmer waters and he remains in the bay.

Or does he? After 30 years, there is some speculation that the original Fungie may have been replaced by a younger model. The lifespan of bottlenose dolphins is hard to discern. In captivity, they typically live for no more than 25 years, but captivity probably shortens the life of a sociable creature used to open seas. In the wild, they may live as old as 50. Even so, Fungie was an adult in 1983, so he’s well past his prime in dolphin years.

The creature that inhabits Dingle Harbour has been slowing down of late. Local skippers point out the nick on his fin, which he got from a propeller blade some 20 years ago. They also point out that Fungie’s behaviour is so unusual that it’s hard to believe it could be replicated in another dolphin.

Fungie’s relatives are not always so easygoing. A more irritable bottlenose dolphin called Dusty has been located around Doolin and Galway Bay. Swimmers have ended up in hospital after mistaking her flapping fins for an invitation instead of a warning. Dolphins are still wild animals, and Fungie’s friendliness may have lead us to overestimate their tolerance of us.

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Author: fionahurley

Fiona Hurley returned to her native Galway after sojourns in Dublin, Glasgow, and Valencia. She works as a technical writer for a multinational I.T. company. Her articles have appeared on the websites Bootsnall.com and SavvyAuntie.com and she has been published by Crannóg and Number Eleven magazines. She loves reading, swing dancing, learning weird facts, and planning journeys to places that she may or may not visit.

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