After four years exclusively in French waters, and two years during which he appeared increasingly to be settled off the Finistère coast, at the north-western tip of Brittany, Dony suddenly upped and left at the end of August. He re-appeared 500km further east, off the English south coast, on 3rd September, at Eastbourne in Sussex where he was soon recognised after accompanying yachtsman Morris Abbott along the coast from Bexhill and right into the enclosed Sovereign Harbour. Dony is no stranger to locks and sluice gates of course and seems to have spent most of the night inside the harbour. According to Ben Mellor, the lock-keeper, the dolphin (now known to the English press as Georges or George) left at about 4.40am on Tuesday following a dive boat. [Eastbourne Today]
Dony's next port of call was Shoreham Harbour near Brighton [Shoreham Herald and Sussex Argus]. Here there were many happy spectators, and rowers, jet-skiers and other boat users all got to stroke Dony as he came round to greet them. Sadly the agents of doom and gloom were out and spread the idea that he would become “aggressive” to anyone who got into the water with him, and that he would get stranded in the River Adur as the tide went out [Worthing Today] – dolphins of course being very stupid animals and ignorant of things like tides! Accordingly, and no doubt acting from the best of intentions, the coastguards tried to lead him out of the harbour, which seems to have succeeded in the absence of other distractions as they report eventually leaving him on his own 2 miles out at sea and speeding back to harbour before he could follow! Some way to welcome a visitor, eh?!
Dony moved on to Lymington in Hampshire the next day (5th September) and got a better reception. Accompanying the Southern Star angling vessel back to port, he came right into the harbour, where some including the skipper's son Charlie Woodford (8) were able to get into the water for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with a friendly wild dolphin. The danger warnings issued in the local press here were a little less hysterical than in Eastbourne, and the forty-odd people crowding onto the quayside, at least, will know not to take too much notice of the 'experts' in future when they hear about Dony the killer dolphin. They have seen him with their own eyes lying on his back to have his belly rubbed, after all! [Bournemouth Daily Echo]. Dony stayed the night in Lymington, but still kept heading west the next day.
On the 7th, he arrived in Kimmeridge and later Weymouth, the scene of confrontations 5 years ago when many people flocked to see and swim with Dony and a few others campaigned to prevent them doing so on spurious 'safety' and 'wildlife protection' grounds. He spent a few hours in the harbour but some of the prime movers in this unholy alliance were able to put pressure on the harbourmaster and with the backing of the police got all the swimmers out of the water. A coastguard spokesman said people were asked to leave the water “for their own safety and to prevent the dolphin becoming stressed”. [This is Dorset.co.uk] Thus, once again, concern for the dolphin's wellbeing was unhappily confused with that of the swimmers and misappropriated simply in order to control people. The dolphin, of course, was there of his own free will and was probably more stressed by being denied the opportunity to interact with people than anything else, while the swimmers entered the water also on their own initiative and responsibility.
As no-one was harassing the dolphin, the only actual legal basis for telling people to get out of the water was the obstruction of the passage of boats (which is the harbourmaster's responsibility), but this does not appear to have been invoked on this occasion. Perhaps because all the boaters just wanted to get a look at the friendly dolphin! The harbourmaster now spent several hours trying to entice Dony away from Weymouth, while Dony simply kept swimming back in with each newly arriving boat. Eventually though he perhaps realised he was not wanted and headed off around Portland Bill into Lyme Bay – an area he knows well from 2002.
The first place Dony was likely to find any action here was in West Bay (near Bridport), where he duly showed himself on the 8th September. What is interesting here is that we have an eye-witness report that there was at least one other dolphin present apart from Dony, although only Dony came in close to the harbour and the people. When Dony got to Dawlish in South Devon the next day (9th September) and started playing with children and adults in the water and in boats, he also had a companion, but after half an hour they were joined by a whole pod of dolphins (estimated at 14 animals). The dolphins came right in close to shore, driving shoaling fish against the wall of a pier and picking them off at their leisure for two and a half hours. Only Dony interacted with boaters and canoeists and allowed himself to be touched and stroked, as usual. The dolphins may have been inclined to leave as the tide turned, but one report has it that it was the arrival of jet-skis which frightened all the dolphins away in the direction of Teignmouth, where Dony was also observed that day. That would certainly not be the first time that these dreadful machines put an end to someone else's encounter with marine wildlife! (Some of the interactive dolphins do get a buzz from jet-skis, but 'normal' wild dolphins have more sense!) What we would love to know, but never will, is whether Dony arrived in Dawlish with the resident pod or whether he called them there when the fish arrived... and who was his mystery companion, an escort from the local pod or one he had met up with on his way there??!!
Dony's trail went cold for a couple of days after Dawlish until he was reported from St.Austell Bay in Cornwall, roughly 125km further west as the dolphin swims. To get to Cornwall he must have passed by several Devon harbours he had visited in 2002, such as Plymouth, Brixham, Thurlestone and particularly Salcombe, which is a busy haven for yachtsmen, dinghy sailors etc, and which he had frequented many times during that visit. Perhaps the season of the year (that time it was June) or the weather played a role.
Once in Cornwall, Dony soon picked up the ferry which runs across the mouth of the bay from Fowey to Megavissey. He loves few things better than a ferry, and he followed this one, or another tour boat on the same route, backwards and forwards all day. The boat skippers and other eye-witnesses were obviously delighted to have Dony's company, and after the day's trips were finished Dony spent the evening swimming with the local children in Megavissey harbour. Exactly the same pattern was played out six years previously and 550km away, with the Blasket Islands to Dunquin ferry and the local children coming down to swim with the same dolphin in the idyllic calm of the evening in Dunquin harbour!
Nevertheless, Dony kept on moving and over the following week there was a tangle of conflicting reports in different media outlets. There have been dolphin sightings from all over the area including some spectacular inshore fishing activity (a run of pilchards, according to some fishermen..). And there seems to be another friendly dolphin who has been based in Plymouth the last few weeks, plus two different solo dolphins in the Penzance area, at least one of which also approaches swimmers closely! (It seems as if the more rubbish appears in the press about the dangers of interacting with dolphins, the more interactive dolphins show up!) So it hasn't always been easy to be sure which dolphin is Dony as he has zig-zagged back and forth in Cornwall and Devon. On both the 12th and the 16th, though, he was at Newlyn where he was photographed entertaining the crew of the famous Penlee lifeboat. Ironically this was one press article which categorically stated that the dolphin in question was NOT Georges / Dony; however the picture published rather gave the lie to that, as it showed exactly the same neck creases as Dony has under his left eye, and when I took this up with the helpful picture editor of the paper concerned, he agreed that it was a mistaken ID. David Pascoe, a fisherman and crew member of the lifeboat, is quoted as saying, "We were a bit concerned about him originally and tried to make him follow us out of the harbour but all he wanted to do was come up to us and be stroked. It was a great experience but something you would never expect from a wild dolphin” [The Cornishman / This is Cornwall.co.uk]. In between these dates, however, Dony made a tour all around the Cornish coast, past Land's End and up to St.Ives and beyond, before returning to Plymouth on the 18th, travelling over 150km in one day. At this point media interest began to wane and no more photos have been published on line. However sightings still trickle through and the most recent we have puts Dony in Falmouth on the 20th September. Since then the weather has broken and we don't expect to get so much inshore dolphin activity while the seas are rough.
Naturally we got very excited as Dony headed west and at first we thought he might be 'home' for the equinox! However he seems to be enjoying Cornwall and Devon right now, so we wish the people of those counties a lot of fun as they entertain the famous travelling dolphin who goes under many aliases but to us will always be Dony from Dunquin.
Thanks to all correspondents including David Cox, Helen Davies-Cox, Elspeth Mallinson, Greg and Emma Woodford for eye-witness reports, to David Day for sleuthing on the internet and to the local papers mentioned for varying degrees of clarity of information!
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