Fungie (sometimes spelled Fungi) is an Irish institution, a national treasure, and a huge draw to the tourism industry. If you are visiting Ireland and want a good chance to see a dolphin “in the wild”, most people will guide you to Dingle in County Kerry. As Dingle Bay is home to Fungie, a lone dolphin known for interacting with humans. And to start an entire industry at once. Unfortunately, the behavior of the dolphin is not natural and a lot of animal-centered activities seem to be too much at times.
Mushroom facts in a nutshell
True, here is an opportunity to interact with a ‘wild’ dolphin – it beats all the interaction experiences provided by theme parks and zoos (which are getting rarer anyway). But is it real? In reality, Fungie can’t be called “wild” these days. He’s used to human company and seems to actively seek it out, and the theme park atmosphere when tour boats crowd the animal (though everyone swears they do so with the utmost respect and consideration) sometimes doesn’t make viewing easy.
A lone bottlenose dolphin decided to settle in Dingle Bay for unknown reasons around 1984, they soon named it ‘Fungie’. Many dolphin-related activities were soon (and still are) offered, and children can now even sit on a dolphin statue before purchasing dolphin dolls; In short, Dingle’s tourism industry has become very, some say almost entirely, dependent on Fungie.
Is Fungie worth it?
Fungie is a Dingle attraction in its own right, so it will be hard to avoid it; Since the dolphin appeared in Dingle Bay, more and more dolphin-related activities, shops and souvenirs have sprung up. Cynics already say that Fungie’s death would also kill a large chunk of Dingle’s income from tourism. This could be the reason why criticism of the “Fungie Industry” is not very welcome in the small town of Kerry. It is also not very welcome to mention the fact that Fungie is still described as a “young dolphin” by many locals (“young” meaning “playful”), despite the fact that he first appeared in 1984 and that the lifespan An average bottlenose dolphin appears to be around 25 years old.
Even with some over 50, Fungie is already in middle age or even old age.
The truth (for some ugly ones) is that the widely promoted encounters with a “wild dolphin” in Dingle are not much different from organized activities at Florida theme parks. And Fungie’s general demeanor has led some marine biologists to conclude that it is not a wild animal, but probably an escaped animal. Mushroom fanatics, on the other hand, declare with almost religious fervor that he is the “real thing,” that he was never forced to act, and that he is not harmed by anyone. Observing various boats circling the bay, each trying to get as close to Fungie as possible, one has the feeling that all of this cannot be pure fun for him.
Then again, what do we land mammals know … although Fungie was injured during a close encounter with a boat propeller in 2016.
Are trips and activities worth it? It depends: there is always the possibility of a close encounter, but never a guarantee. Another option would be to climb Ballymacadoyle Hill to the curious marker and enjoy the view… with a chance to see Fungie for free. Or even really wild marine mammals passing by, however whale watching requires patience.
A word of caution about dolphins
Fungie-mania has led many people to view those marine mammals as man’s best friend in an aquatic environment, always happy, always pleasant – Flipper in Irish, so to speak. And this has led people, from the general public to the so-called “dolphin whisperers,” to the conclusion that nothing can go wrong here. Unfortunately, this is a very wrong conclusion.
Dolphins are wild animals, not pets, and their friendly (or at least nonchalant) social behavior that is often displayed during human contact can change for the worse in a second. If the dolphin does not initiate contact on its own, forcing itself into personal space could lead to a “fight or flight” reflex. And in the water, you are always at a disadvantage.
In recent years, dolphin attacks on overzealous swimmers have led to several hospitalizations of the two-legged species at the encounter. Dolphins are highly adapted to ram humans in the groin with the speed and devastating impact of a torpedo (at least that’s the way it feels). So … leave them alone!