A dolphin’s decades-long stay made this Irish town famous. A year after he left for good, Dingle bids farewell to Fungie

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Bottlenose dolphins’ mouths naturally curve upwards, giving the impression that they are always smiling. But locals would say that Fungi – pronounced fun-ghee – was doing just that. It was this quality that compelled tourists from all over the world to visit this remote part of Ireland, and how a booming tourism industry was established on the edge of Europe.

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But after 37 years, the fungus disappeared without a trace.

Now, a year after she was last seen, Flannery is hosting a memorial to commemorate the beloved dolphin.

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He and other local boat operators offered free boat trips to the entrance to Dingle harbor on Sunday, with emotions running high as the sun finally broke through a blanket of gray clouds on the anniversary of Fungi’s disappearance , in its wake left a rainbow. “He is with us today,” said Flannery, as his first voyage left port.

“You try to be cheerful, but it’s tough,” said Bridget Flannery, Jimmy’s wife and owner of Dingle Sea Safari, one of the companies that runs boat trips in the harbor. “We always knew that Fungie wouldn’t be here forever. You want to end a story — right — that he’s gone back to his friends. But you know in your heart of your heart that he’s the one.” Somewhere in a good place, Dingle is in a good place, but he is in a better place.”

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Fungi was instrumental in bringing to life the tourism of Dingle. But more importantly, they helped educate the public about the wider marine world.

‘Missing’

At the start of the pandemic, Jimmy Flannery, who has run Dingle Dolphin Tours Company for more than three decades, “took it upon himself to try and keep Fungi company,” as the tour’s operations were halted due to Covid-19 restrictions. was banned from operation.

“He longed for human contact, that’s what he lived for,” Flannery said.

Jimmy Flannery on his tour boat on Sunday.  Behind him is a newly painted mural of Fungi that was painted on the old lighthouse and unveiled on Sunday.

But after six weeks, Flannery’s check-ins had to be halted as pandemic restrictions were further tightened. By mid-October 2020, Fungi was gone.

“It was a big shock,” Flannery said, recalling that Fungi had never disappeared for more than a few hours at a time.

A massive search operation was launched with a dozen boats. Search and rescue divers conducted extensive searches of coves and inlets where dolphins normally swim, even doing sonar scans of the ocean floor.

“I think it was inevitable from the day he arrived,” said Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist and cousin of Jimmy Flannery, who has been observing Fungi since 1983. “Everyone was hoping that one day he would go, and one day would take time with him.”

The Dingle native and founder of the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium said it is likely that the Fungi is dead, with age being a possible factor. Fungi was a teenager when he first appeared in Dingle, he said.

Male bottlenose dolphins have a life expectancy of up to 40 years. In 2019, The Guinness Book of World Records named Fungi as the longest living solitary dolphin in the world.

It is unclear why Fungi chose Dingle, but Kevin Flannery believes it is possible that he may have been released into the wild after the dolphinarium closed in England.

“The public was changing at the time, there was a sort of Green Revolution,” he said, noting that there were few other dolphins that turned up around the same time in well-populated ports across England.

He said Fungi’s personality was charming, but it also helped people understand why they should care about the ocean.

“A lot of people were educated about the marine world in the realization that it wasn’t a place where you dump plastics and things, that it was a living entity where you had all these whales, dolphins, all kinds of cetaceans. Were — and that was the place to take care of,” Kevin Flannery said.

Tourists board Jimmy Flannery's boat on Sundays.

“I think in that sense Fungi has educated millions of people,” he said, adding that dolphins contribute to ocean change in attitudes around sustainability.

The fishing industry in Ireland and the UK is “starting to realize that they can make more money by taking people to sea,” said Kevin Flannery, adding that he hopes the mindset will soon extend to the whaling industry in the Nordic countries. may spread.

fungal effect

Fungi may have put Dingle on the map, but the city’s tourism industry is still going strong, despite the pandemic and predictions that the city’s star attraction will disappear.

Tourists travel by sea from Dingle port for a special memorial service.
Local boat operators celebrate the life of Fungi.

Although it was “staggering” financially at first, boat operators have increasingly diversified their itineraries, offering private tours of the harbor, sea safaris and eco-tours.

It’s because of that fungus effect, Kevin Flannery said.

Still, the loss has left many heartbroken.

“It hurts because it was like your pet dog was waiting for you every morning when you were going fishing. And every evening when you came back, he was there,” he said.

But for others, Fungi was more than just a companion. Local fisherman John Brosnan sees Fungi as a lifesaver. Fourteen years ago, Brosnan was suffering from heart ailment but didn’t know it. A French cardiologist who had come to see Fungi diagnosed Brosnan’s condition, and later treated him in France.

Making a fist with his hand, Brosnan patted his heart. “The fungus is always here,” she said, “it will never leave my mind.”

Local children walk around a statue of Fungi placed in the town of Dingle in 2000.

Fungi’s memories were flowing as the crowd gathered throughout the afternoon. Bob Tait, a retired head chef in the merchant navy and a Glasgow native, said he came to Dingle 27 years ago on “five days off” but never left. Whale and dolphin enthusiasts said that Fungi played a part in that decision.

It should come as no surprise that the community is looking for closure.

Wake, a sacred Irish tradition, allows people to bind together, collectively, to overcome the grief that a person’s death brings. And in this rural county, where the local radio station broadcasts announcements of daily deaths to listeners four times a day, that tradition still runs deep.

The monument may be closest to them. Organizers estimated on Sunday that around 1,000 people turned out to remember Fungi.

Dingle Parish Priest Michael Moynihan blessed the boat and its passengers with holy water.
Bridget Flannery stands in front of local children's Fungi artwork.

In the afternoon, a local priest and minister of the Church of Ireland boarded one of the ships while praying at sea.

Dingle Parish priest Michael Moynihan said he was delighted to read a blessing for Fungi from the highest point on the boat. “The higher, the better, closer to my God,” he said. Prayers were also offered for the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Back at the entrance to Dingle Harbor, Jimmy’s son, Jamie Flannery, greets visitors when he sees a collection of testimonies written about Fungi as well as drawings done by school children in the peninsula.

They are the last generation the Dolphins will know, and Jamie Flannery, like the larger community, is committed to keeping those memories alive.

“I want kids to believe if he’s on an adventure somewhere,” said Jimmy Flannery, invoking another Irish tradition: storytelling.

“We can always be romantic about it and think maybe he’s gone somewhere and enjoying himself,” he said.

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Credit : www.cnn.com

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