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Record-breaking dolphin Fungie leaves Irish town heartbroken as he disappears after 37 years

Jane Dalton
·3-min read

Watch: Ireland gripped by disappearance of dolphin

A dolphin that captured the hearts of an entire town and lived there for nearly 40 years has left residents bereft by suddenly disappearing.

A full-scale search, with boats, divers and sonar, has been launched to hunt for Fungie off Dingle Harbour in County Kerry, on Ireland's southwest coast.

There have been four possible sightings of Fungie, offering hope he will return.

The bottlenose dolphin, who first arrived in the area 37 years ago, spawned a tourism industry in the area thanks to the number of visitors wanting to spot him.

It's estimated that up to 100 jobs are dependent on Fungie’s presence, the Irish Post reported. Up to a dozen boats a day take visitors out hoping for a glimpse of him, and gift shops and pubs are named after him.

Local journalist Sean Mac an tSithigh told the BBC there was a tremendous love for the dolphin that was “part of Dingle's identity, part of the fabric and story of the town”.

Dr Kevin Flannery said Fungie had taught visitors the sea was not a place for dumping plastic (PA)
Dr Kevin Flannery said Fungie had taught visitors the sea was not a place for dumping plastic (PA)

He said: “He is known throughout the world and because Fungie is known, Dingle is known - and he is a source of great pride for those of us who live here on the peninsula.

“In the 1980s the economic conditions were quite poor in Ireland - Fungie generated an interest in the area and tourists came.”

Nuala Moore, an extreme swimmer from Dingle, described Fungie as her “training buddy”.

Last year, the wild mammal was named the oldest solitary dolphin in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.

But then, just over a week ago, he vanished.

It’s the first time that he has gone more than 24 hours without being seen in the harbour, and locals fear he has either left for good or died.

One theory is linked to the appearance last week of a humpback and a few pods of dolphins that came unusually close to the shore.

Pádraig Whooley, sightings officer for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said that while solitary bottlenose dolphins are not unheard of, Fungie is different.

“It's not hugely unusual for them to seek out an area and stay there for a while but to spend practically their entire adult life in one little harbour is really exceptional,” he said.

Marine biologist Dr Kevin Flannery said: “The families, teenagers and children that have visited down through the years came to realise that the sea is a place with beautiful and happy creatures, like him, that it is not a place for dumping plastic and not a place for harvesting.”

In the book Voices in the Ocean, author Susan Casey wrote of Fungie, apparently prophetically: “He has bonded with people but he's not completely isolated from his own species. (Lately, he has been seen gallivanting with two females.) In all situations the town protects his interests. And if The Most Loyal Animal on the Planet ever decides that he has been loyal to Dingle for long enough, he is free to leave as he pleases.”

Locals hope she is right and that he is happily making a new life for himself in the open seas.

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Watch: Hope fading to find dolphin that brought life and jobs to quiet harbour town