he summer visitors have gone, and the winter rains and wind have reclaimed County Kerry, a remote and beautiful region in the southwest of Ireland. But the residents of Dingle, accustomed to all that, have an even bigger worry: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform it from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years.
Two weeks after the last confirmed sighting of Fungie, on 13 October, boats were still going out every day – storms and ocean swell permitting – to search the rocky coast for signs of the missing dolphin. At the narrow mouth of the harbour, where he spent most of his time, people with binoculars scan the waves for a glimpse of his dorsal fin. Yet hope is diminishing.
Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist who built a popular aquarium on the back of the Fungie phenomenon, says the dolphin had gone missing before but only ever for a day or two.
“That’s why the tourist boats could afford to offer you your money back if you went out and didn’t see him,” he says. “He was very reliable. This doesn’t look good.”
“What’s happening here is a bereavement,” says Caroline Boland, a spokeswoman for the Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance. “People are devastated to think he might be gone. It’s like a member of the family dying. He brought magic, and he inspired us, this beautiful wild creature who lived at the mouth of the harbour.”