“Back then, all the businesses would close from Halloween to Easter. But then artists and creative people started coming here to settle,” she said. “National Geographic did a piece on him. Chefs came and opened good restaurants. The sustainable jobs came after him.”
As well as commerce, the dolphin also spawned legends. Not long after he came to national prominence, a Dublin newspaper reported rumors that a rival Kerry village was attempting to lure him away by bribing him with fish. But, said Michael O’Neill of Dingle Boat Tours, one of two groups that operate dolphin-spotting trips in the harbor, Fungie always insisted on catching his own mackerel and pollock, which may have been his undoing.
“He was slowing down a bit lately, so maybe he couldn’t catch them any more,” Mr. O’Neill said. “But he would never take a fish from you, not even a live one.”
Another popular myth sought to account for Fungie’s remarkable longevity by insinuating that there have been three different dolphins, one after the other, with local businesses conspiring to maintain the Fungie brand.
But experts say that solitary dolphins show up infrequently and at random, and not all are so friendly. The people of Doolin, another scenic coastal resort up the coast in County Clare, were delighted when Dusty, a female dolphin, settled in the area over 20 years ago, but later had to put up warning signs when she began ramming and injuring swimmers.
Dingle’s lucrative dolphin-watching industry — a dozen boats charged up to €15, or about $18, per adult and €8, or about $9.50, per child for an hourlong trip to watch Fungie play in the water — will be the immediate victim if he is gone. But operators are trying to be philosophical.
“Of course, our income will be down, but that’s life,” said Mary O’Neill, also of Dingle Boat Tours, whose father operated the very first Fungie-watching trips. “We always knew this day would come, that he wouldn’t be around forever. We’ll find some other way.”