Ireland is mourning its most famous mammal: Fungie the bottlenose dolphin. A mainstay in Dingle Harbour since 1983, Fungie has been missing for days and successive search parties have uncovered no sign of the much-loved creature.

Fungie, a male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, has been keeping locals and tourists in Dingle company since 1983, when he was first sighted off the Irish coast. He's a solitary dolphin who doesn't have a pod but chooses the company of humans instead. His eagerness to play with anyone who joins him in the water has encouraged thousands to do so each year. There's a whole tourism industry in Dingle based around him, with gift shops and pubs that bear his name and Fungie boat tours that regularly take people out to see him. But last Thursday the alarm was raised when locals noticed he hadn't been seen in the waters for more than a day, something they report is completely out of character for him.

Fungi the Dolphin
Fungie greets tourists on a boat tour ©PA Images/Getty Images

Estimated to be at least 41 years old, he was named the oldest solitary dolphin in the world by Guinness World Records last year. Boats and teams of divers have been searching the waters for him but so far they've uncovered no trace of Fungie. There are reports that he appeared tired at the end of the summer season but Jimmy Flannery, who runs Dingle Sea Safari, said that was normal behaviour and doesn't believe it's linked to his disappearance.

Dolphin in Ireland
Fungie willingly swam to boats and swimmers ©PetraKosonen/Getty Images

"He got quiet at the end of the summer, that happens every year... You always have to keep him amused, he's like a little pup. If you didn't occupy him, he'd just get bored and wander off," he told the Dermot & Dave Show on Ireland's TodayFM. Jimmy explained that Fungie never wandered off for more than a day. The Dingle Peninsula is one of the best places in Ireland to spot dolphins and whales and Fungie occasionally join another pod of dolphins for a few hours but would always come back to his core habitat, where there's an abundance of salmon to eat and plenty of people to entertain him.

It's not normal for a dolphin to seek out human companions but Fungie is unique in that regard, Padraig Whooley from Ireland's Dolphin and Whale Group told Lonely Planet. "There's no other bottlenose dolphin in the history of recording dolphins and whales who has spent close to 40 years in one space. He's broken all world records." While Padraig can only speculate what happened to Fungie, he believes with every 24 hours that pass, it's unlikely he'll return.

Fungie The Dolphin In Ireland -
Fungie the dolphin draws in thousands of tourists who came swim with him ©Gamma-Rapho/ Getty Images

"When bottlenose dolphins die, they tend not to wash up. There's a population of nearly 200 bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, near Dingle, with about a 96% survival rate year on year. That means 4% die each year. Yet in almost 30 years studying them only a tiny number, about three dolphins, have actually washed up. When the vast majority die, presumably of natural causes, they tend to disappear. It does seem to be a quirk of dolphins," he explained.

Fungie the Dolphin in Dingle Harbour
He's been a friend to locals for almost 40 years ©Haydn West/PA Images/Getty Images

But the community who has grown up around Fungie isn't ready to give up. They're hoping that no news is good news. Their beloved Fungie was always free to come and go as he pleased and there's still a glimmer of hope among them that he'll return.

Caroline Boland from Dingle Peninsula Tourism said it's a sorrowful time for the fishing and coastal communities in the area. "Our community is devastated by the loss of Fungie and the magic, joy and wonder that he brings to our local families, our children and our visitors alike. He is such a special part of our families and community and our worry and sadness for him is immense," she told Lonely Planet.

"We just live in hope. I won't be able to pass by a pod of bottlenose dolphins ever again without looking to see if our beloved Fungie is in the middle of them," Jimmy added. "It is unlikely, but, just like a family member you're never going to be ready to just give up and give in and accept that we're never going to see him again.

"He was wild and free. As far as I'm concerned, we'll always believe he's swam off into the sunset."

You might also like:

New Zealand bans swimming with dolphins in Bay of Islands
The UK just launched its first whale and dolphin-spotting trail
Meet the couple who swapped city life to live on a remote Irish island with no electricity

Explore related stories

High waves at Unstad beach in Norway in Lofoten attract surfers even in winter.


Surfers share the best places in Europe to catch waves

Jun 17, 2024 • 12 min read