The Bottom Line
If you are visiting Ireland and want to have a good chance to see a dolphin in the wild, most people will guide you towards Dingle in County Kerry. Dingle Bay is home to "Fungi", a solitary dolphin known for interacting with humans. And for single-flippered-ly kickstarting a whole industry. Unfortunately the dolphin's behaviour is not natural and the large amount of activities centring on the one animal seems to be too much at times.
- Chance to interact with a "wild" dolphin.
- Fungi can no longer be regarded as "wild".
- Tours tend to crowd the animal at times.
- In 1984 solitary Bottlenose Dolphin decided to settle in Dingle Bay for unknown reasons.
- Numerous dolphin-related activities are on offer and kids can sit on a dolphin-statue before buying dolphin dolls.
- Dingle's tourist industry has become very Fungi-dependent.
- Curious fact: A pizzeria in Dingle Town offers "pizza fungi" ... this refers to a traditional Italian mushroom pizza though!
Guide Review - Fungi the Dingle Dolphin
Fungi is a Dingle attraction of his own - ever since the dolphin appeared in Dingle Bay more and more dolphin-related activities, shops and souvenirs have surfaced. Cynics already say that the death of Fungi would kill off a large part of Dingle's income from tourism as well. This might be the reason why criticism of the "Fungi-Industry" is not very welcome in the small Kerry town. Also not very welcome is the fact that Fungi is still described as a "young dolphin" by many locals ("young" standing for "playful"), despite the fact that he first appeared in 1984 and that the average lifespan of a Bottlenose Dolphin seems to be around 25 years.
The truth is that the widely promoted encounters with a "wild dolphin" are not very dissimilar to organized activities in Florida's theme parks (... ignoring water temperatures, obviously). And Fungi's general behavior has led some marine biologists to conclude that he is not a wild but an escaped animal. Fungi-fans declare that he is the "real thing", that he is never forced to perform and that no-one means him harm. Observing several boats circling in the bay, each trying to to get as near to Fungi as possible, one gets the feeling that all this cannot be pure fun for him.
Are the trips and activities worth it? It depends - there always is a chance of a close encounter, but never a guarantee. My personal recommendation would be to hike up Ballymacadoyle Hill to the curious marker and enjoy the view ... with the chance to spot Fungi for free. Or even really wild marine mammals passing by, whalewatching takes patience, though.
A cautionary word of advice regarding dolphins:
Fungi-mania has led to many people seeing those marine mammals as man's best friend in an aquatic environment, always happy, always nice. And has led people, from the great public to self-appointed "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 indifferent) social behaviour often displayed during contact with humans may take a change for the worse in a second. If the dolphin does not initiate contact by itself, forcing yourself into its personal space could lead to a "flight or fight" reflex. And in the water you are always at a disadvantage.
In recent years, dolphin attacks on over-enthusiastic swimmers have led to several hospitalisations of the two-legged species in the encounter. Dolphins are very adapt at ramming humans in the groin with the speed and devastating impact of a torpedo (at least it feels like that). So ... leave them alone!