Internationally renowned dolphin Fungi, who has spawned a multi-million euro tourism industry in Kerry over the past 30 years, could be cavorting for decades to come.
Marine experts believe playful Fungi, famed in song, book, and film, may still be under 40 years old and could have a lifespan of 50 to 60 years.
It is unusual for a lone, wild dolphin to remain in the same place for such a lengthy spell and yesterday, Kevin Flannery, director of Dingle Oceanworld, described Fungi as a rare natural phenomenon.
“He’s unique,” said Mr Flannery. “There’s a place in Australia where a dolphin family has been documented, but there’s no other place that we know of where a solitary wild dolphin has stayed for so long in the wild while interacting with humans.’’
While the movie Ryan’s Daughter launched the Dingle Peninsula as a tourist destination in the 1960s, Mr Flannery said Fungi “rescued” the town when he arrived in 1983.
Estimates vary as to the numbers of tourists Fungi attracts, with figures ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 per year. Upwards of 10 ferries take visitors to see Fungi in Dingle Harbour, while many come to swim with him.
Celebrations are being held this weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of his arrival with a film screening, exhibits, and music.
Nick Massett of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said members do not swim with wild dolphins, pointing out that it would easy for such a powerful, 3.6m-long animal to harm people.
However, he said Fungi was friendly, intelligent, and very aware of where people were in the water.
John O’Connor and his daughter, Deirdre, from Beenbawn, Dingle, were among the first people to swim with Fungi.
Mr O’Connor recalled a spring day in 1984 when he and Deirdre were out snorkelling in the harbour.
“We swam out and he just joined us and swam all the way back to the beach with us,” Mr O’Connor told Radio Kerry. “It was an amazing experience.’’
Mr O’Connor believes Fungi will not leave Dingle at this stage because he is happy there, and may end his days there.
Ever optimistic, Mr O’Connor joked: “He had a girlfriend who stayed with him for a long time. Hopefully, there are some young Fungis out there!’’
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