26th July 2005. My first visit to the Blasket island to see the new friendly Irish dolphin.
On the ferry from Dun Chaoin we learned that the dolphin we are calling Venus has also been christened Billy by one of the boat crews and Daphne by another, while a third insists on calling it Dony… Some people on the boat thought they were looking for Fungie, while others believed the Clare dolphin Dusty had moved south! Arriving in the harbour I saw the dolphin immediately, surfacing occasionally by one of the yellow buoys off the beach, to which a sailing yacht was moored. Apparently she spends most of the day by this buoy. We made our way round to the cliff top and watched for a while. Mostly she was quiet but at one point there was a flurry of activity and we watched her chase and catch a fish. She threw it in the air and caught it, then carried it a little further before eating it and returning to her station by the yellow buoy. When another boat came near she would follow it and bow-ride briefly before returning to base. My impression at this stage was of a rather small, slender dolphin, quite pale coloured especially on the sides and underside, very graceful in her movements.
Soon more and more boats began to arrive. The three ferries from Dunquin and two from Dingle all have one or two inflatables with them to ferry their passengers to the island pier and most of these also took a turn along the beach to try and see the dolphin. They don’t all come at once but there was generally one or two arriving or leaving at any point. On top of that there were two boat loads of divers from Dingle, several other private RIBS, three cruising yachts, a couple of speedboats and two fishermens’ open boats – all within the space of two hours. Most of these seemed to have come to see the dolphin and to think that the best way to impress a dolphin was with the size of your outboard engine. Around lunchtime there was always at least one or two, sometimes three or four inflatables, chasing her at any time. Sometimes she would bow-ride or otherwise ‘perform’ briefly, but mostly it seemed that the people on the boats would have seen more if they had stayed still instead of revving their engines and chasing up and down. Certainly it would have been more pleasant for the rest of us!
There was no point in getting in the water while this circus was going in, in fact it would have been dangerous, so we waited. As things quietened down it seemed that the dolphin was playing with the divers. She spy-hopped and then jumped clear of the water three or four times within 5 minutes, right over where we thought the divers were (no surface marker buoys, no safety cover in either of the boats…!). By this time we’d walked down to the beach. It was blowing a fresh northerly and it was chilly in the air and freezing in the water, which was also choppy, so I was in no hurry to get changed. But then we saw the dolphin leaving the divers and back on station near the yellow buoy so Gabriella took her chance and headed into the waves. The dolphin was with her as soon as she was in a good depth of water, maybe 30m out from the beach. Seeing this I also togged up and joined her in the sea. She was delighted with her encounter and had had good views of the dolphin a metre or two underneath her. They had circled around each other and the dolphin had been whistling and chattering her teeth.
Very soon the dolphin was there again and I had my chance. I was surprised to see how scratched and scarred she was when one saw her underwater. Her dorsal fin is intact but she has quite a few body markings, and her tail stock is a solid mass of criss-crossed tooth rake marks. Also she didn’t seem so small and slender after all – maybe bigger than Dusty or Dony, though much smaller than Fungie of course. But of course she is beautiful, like all dolphins! I tried to take pictures with an underwater camera first before attempting to interact with her, which was perhaps a mistake! Soon she was gone. Gabriella and I chatted on the steps of a yacht for a few minutes before the dolphin returned. This time I dived down to the bottom (4-5m), expecting her to follow – but she disappeared, and I didn’t see her again! After another 5 minutes’ wait, we were both too cold and decided to get out. We never saw her underside so we still don’t know for sure what sex she is, but we both felt instinctively in agreement with Ute’s verdict that she’s a she!
So, it was a short swim but a very nice introduction. A couple of other snorkellers had got in the water from a RIB while we were out there and maybe the dolphin had gone to check them out, I don’t know. And of course the divers were still down, further along the beach. So there was still a lot going on. It would be interesting to swim there when it was quiet and see if she was more interactive – which would mean early in the morning or late in the evening, it seems. However I have to say that I have never been so cold in Irish waters and I’ve swum in the same wetsuit happily in April and October before, and in a thicker wetsuit in all the winter months! So if you are heading out to the island, be prepared for winter conditions and it will help you to spend longer in the water!