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The search for Fungie: Ireland’s beloved bottlenose dolphin

(CNN) – As the Irish government puts the country back on strict national lockdown for six weeks, an unlikely story continues to breach the endless Covid-19 headlines.Fungie, a bottlenose dolphin, is absent from the scenic coast of County Kerry in south-west Ireland, where it has lived at the entrance to Dingle Harbor since 1983.

Over the past 37 years, the wild marine mammal has grown to become an Irish celebrity thanks to its kind nature and love for people. Visitors came from near and far to take a boat into the harbor of the small port town to have a closer look.

But the Guinness world record holder for the “longest recorded lone dolphin” hasn’t been seen swimming next to a fishing boat since last Thursday, locals who coordinated the search for him told CNN.

Now they fear the worst.

The official search for Fungie has been suspended, but locals continue to search for signs of him.

Dingle Sea Safari Tours

“It’s completely uncharacteristic of him. Most of the time he’s ever gone missing was four or five hours,” Jimmy Flannery, chairman of Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, told CNN.

Flannery, who has been running Fungie boat tours for 33 years, has been coordinating the daily search teams since the alert.

“He’s as close as possible to a missing person,” Flannery said. “We had 12 boats looking by Saturday, and on Sunday, divers from the Mallow Search and Rescue team conducted a comprehensive search of the bays and bays where it was normally seen. They also performed a sonar scan of the ocean floor, but there was no trace. “

Fungie has grown to be a local celebrity over the years.

Fungie has grown to be a local celebrity over the years.

Dingle Sea Safari Tours

With the official search now suspended, the locals will continue to watch for signs of their beloved dolphin “as long as it takes”.

“Fungie is a part of our whole life,” said Flannery. “We hope he swam on an adventure. We live in the hope that he will come back.”

Flannery believes Covid-19 restrictions could have an impact on the playful people lover as Ireland’s first Covid-19 lockdown in March, April and May urged non-essential boats to stay out of the water.

“For the first time in 37 years, Fungie ran out of company when the boats stopped going,” Flannery said. “He might have sensed something was wrong. Maybe he thought the world wasn’t the same as before and he just moved on.”

Fungie has lived at the entrance to Dingle's harbor since 1983.

Fungie has lived at the entrance to Dingle’s harbor since 1983.

David Cairns / Shutterstock

However, Fungie is estimated to be 40 years old, and Simon Berrow, chief science officer and acting CEO of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said male bottlenose dolphins have a life expectancy of between 30 and 40 years. He added that Fungie’s disappearance was expected.

“It would always be that way – Fungie didn’t show up one day instead of being found washed up dead in Dingle,” Berrow told CNN.

“For the great abundance of BND [bottlenose dolphins] We get relatively few strandings off the west coast of Ireland. I’m not sure why, but maybe they’ll swim offshore or sink when they’re dead or dying. It’s hard to know, but it’s better that way.

“One thing is for sure, people will be looking for Fungie in the years to come and there could be a lot of ‘false’ sightings like Elvis, but his legacy will live on for a long time,” added Berrow.

An entire industry is now going to suffer without its main attraction. Prior to the high season coronavirus, up to 12 boats were making daily trips and directly employed more than 50 people, Flannery said. And dozens more will be indirectly affected in local hotels, guest houses, pubs, restaurants and shops, he added.

The beloved dolphin is estimated to be 40 years old.

The beloved dolphin is estimated to be 40 years old.

Dingle Sea Safari Tours

“Economically it’s not good for us, but the worry right now is where he is. It’s like losing a family member, that’s our friend, our mascot,” said Flannery.

In Dick Macks Pub, Dingle native Finn MacDonnell said the news of Fungie’s disappearance was “pretty grim”.

“People are in bad shape because the new level five lockdown has been announced [Ireland’s highest restriction announced on Monday] and now Fungie is missing, “MacDonnell told CNN.

“We all grew up with him. We knew the day would come when he wouldn’t be here, but it’s probably all a bit darker than we thought given the current situation.”

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