Charting interactions between dolphins and people
Irish Dolphins - Interactions between dolphins and people.  Including Fungie the Dingle Dolphin
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Dony - Pattern of Behaviour

Dony liked nothing more than to have his tummy rubbed Dony is in many ways the most extraordinary dolphin we have ever heard of; remarkable for his travels of course, but also for the vast number and wide range of his interactions with people, boats and even other dolphins. His behaviour has varied to some extent over the six years we have now been tracking him (see below for details) but there are many constant factors.

Dony is a fearless and curious dolphin who investigates every body and every vessel which he comes into contact with. He is unafraid of physical contact and indeed constantly invites and seeks it out, whether with animate or inanimate objects. He often loves to be scratched and rubbed by swimmers in the water or even people in boats or on jetties and seems to demand attention constantly, even to the extent of butting people with his beak, mouthing their limbs and blocking them from getting out the water. With someone he takes to, Dony may lie still or swim slowly being stroked, literally for hours on end. He often shows an erect penis (although observers not wearing masks usually don't realise this) and may rub it against people, sometimes with alarming force though never actually causing injury to either part. He also has a particular habit of swimming between people's legs. He very rarely, if ever, jumps out of the water (cf. Fungie) or even shows himself much at the surface. He is not interested in toys (cf. Dusty) and some swimmers, including this author, have at times found themselves at a loss to know what game to play with him! As interactive dolphins go, I would describe him as hard to relate to - but none the less fascinating.

During the month of May 2001 a pattern emerged whereby ‘Dony’ would be seen most days, though not every day, following one of the boats - usually the island ferry. Typically he would pick up the boat at the island mooring, where the ferry starts from, at about 10:00 am. Sometimes he would check around the moorings earlier, maybe 8:00 to 8:30 am, to see if there was anything going on. If there were no people or boats around, he would often play with and rub himself against the mooring buoys, especially one large plastic barrel.

If swimmers got into the water while the dolphin was around, whether at the island mooring or in Dunquin Harbour, the dolphin would stay and interact, and would not leave when the boat did. Otherwise he would follow the boat across and back, sometimes several times, but sometimes disappearing half-way across the sound.

With swimmers, the dolphin was sometimes ‘mellow’ and would lie still to be stroked, while on other occasions he was described as ‘frisky’, ‘snappy’ or ‘pushy’. Many people were unnerved by his habit of showing and snapping his teeth and on a couple of occasions he mouthed peoples’ arms as well as their fins and slightly scratched them. When opening his mouth towards snorkellers he would often emit a sort of screeching sound. Sometimes he would flick his tail while diving and on at least one occasion he caught a swimmer a blow to the head in this way, but there were no injuries and no-one interpreted his behaviour as aggressive. ‘Dony’ continued to extend his penis frequently, often unnoticed by swimmers not wearing masks, and was thought to prefer female company to male, however no-one who got into the water with him was ignored and he spent long periods in the company of many swimmers of both sexes. It was always the swimmers who retired cold or exhausted rather than the dolphin getting bored and swimming away, and on at least two occasions the dolphin interacted continuously with swimmers for over 4 hours at a stretch.

Most of this interaction took place very close to the slipway on the Blasket Island, in water depths of 3m-10m. The dolphin sometimes seemed to lead individual swimmers out to sea and into the strong currents which flow past the island, but basically he seemed content to swim wherever the swimmers chose to remain, which was usually in the shallow water between the moorings and the shore. When a last swimmer was planning to get out, he would try to block them, sometimes pushing them with his beak, and would stay with them into water as shallow as 1.5m.

Dony would very often display his penis while interacting with people. In this shot he is also about Some people believed that the dolphin preferred to swim with people who were less mobile in the water, and in particular that he did not like people to wear fins (flippers), face masks and snorkels. Certainly he was often extremely attentive to people who had none of these accessories and who might not have been strong swimmers. Nearly all his interactions were on the surface of the water. However, if the only people in the water were divers he would go down with them and interact in the same way as on the surface, at 25m depth.

Dony was not seen to perform any typical dolphin aerobatics and only rarely breached clear of the water eg when travelling from one boat to another. When in a ‘mellow’ mood and being stroked, he would usually have his eyes closed or half-closed. Unlike other dolphins we have swum with, it was rarely possible to look directly into his eyes. He showed little interest in other objects or potential toys such as footballs, seaweed or boogie boards, and even an underwater camera housing only held his attention briefly on its first outings.

On one occasion the dolphin was observed apparently feeding in the tidal rip off the SW shore of the island. He was not seen eating or carrying fish. He often followed fishing boats, including at times when they had been discarding bycatch which was being eaten by seabirds. It is not known whether the dolphin ate this discarded fish. He was seen on several occasions when in the company of snorkellers violently regurgitating fish bones.
Defecation was also commonly seen, usually when he appeared to be over-excited.

Normandy / Channel Islands October 2001 - March 2002
We have little information at present as to Dony's behavioural patterns whilst travelling around the coast of Normandy and the Channel Islands. However, the fact that he picked up the unfortunate name of 'Randy' (as well as 'Georges') perhaps speaks for itself.

ENGLAND April 2002 - September 2002
In Dorset, England, Dony distinguished himself by an obsessively interactive behaviour around motor boats and picked up numerous fresh propeller scars, including a deep gash to the front of his dorsal fin. He also continued to interact boisterously and sexually with swimmers and delighted many with his enthusiasm for human company.

FRANCE/HOLLAND/BELGIUM October 2002 - December 2002
Most reports of Dony from this episode were from land- or boat-based observations, due to the literally freezing cold and often polluted waters in which the dolphin was swimming as he toured the canal systems of the Low Countries. Dony's sojourn in these unlikely waters was itself a remarkable aspect of his behavioural repertoire. We don't believe he was 'lost'; he was exploring!

BRITTANY/FRANCE March 2003 - August 2007
Dony continued to follow boats of all kinds eagerly, but also found plenty of human company in the form of snorkellers and swimmers. Scare stories in the press about occasional incidents of snapping at or butting people were outweighed by numerous other reports of how gentle he was. In Les Sables d'Olonne, Dony encountered his biggest crowd of human beings to date with maybe 300 people in the shallow waters off a popular bathing beach.
Dony met up with another interactive dolphin known as Jean Floc'h and the two spent a lot of time together. Dony also swam with a resident pod of dolphins around Ile de Sein and continued to interact with any human swimmers who managed to get out to see him.

Date Posted: 14/07/2001
Date Edited: 24/09/2007

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