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Irish Dolphins - Interactions between dolphins and people.  Including Fungie the Dingle Dolphin
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Sat, 20th July

This is the report of a 5-day trip to Fanore of two Belgians, interested in whale-watching for 5 years : Grégor Chapelle (28) and Gaëtan Vanloqueren (24). The goal of that trip was, of course, to meet Dusty. They swam with her four times, around 2-3 hours each time, and tried to interact with her as much as possible: playing new games with new things as they had read that Dusty was interested by new “games” and new things. At home, they are involved in Hydrojeunes, a Belgian association organising sailing trips in the French-part of the Mediterranean Sea with teens having difficulties with their families, school, etc. These whale-watching oriented sailing trips are part of a greater long-term, social and ecological project with the teens and their animators. See for more details.

They swam with Dusty from Thursday the 18th of July until Monday the 22nd so make sure you read their other accounts.

We arrived at 7.30 am. The weather was nice, the sea calm. We went to the beach for an easier swim. (Let’s call this beach Dusty’s Beach. This 30 meter-large sand beach is really wonderful: it’s not visible from the road, it’s surrounded by rocks on the left and the right and you can see the Connemara mountains on the other side of the sea). Grégor called Dusty, hitting his flippers on the sea’ surface. Dusty came within 45 seconds! She started a new “game” with him: she brought an algae (with two dozen one-meter long filaments, attached to a small piece of rock: the filaments go vertical when the rock is on the bottom. She takes the algae on her beak, or on her fins and place it close to Grégor, who gives it back to her, plays with it and then lets it sink. It looks as if she “gives” us this seaweed like we “give” her things to play with.

She seemed also attracted by the yellow flippers that Grégor wears. While he was floating at the surface on his back, she came close to him and rested her head on his leg, and then on his shoulder. Grégor rubbed her and hugged her. This was wonderful.

She was not attracted by a blue shovel and other yellow toys that we bought at a local store to play with her. (Two Irish kids received a great present when we had to leave for Belgium.)

Grégor left the water and I got in it, played with the flipper, with the algae and swam with her. Then I took out a plastic bag that I had hidden in the wetsuit. Dusty was very interested by the bag and stayed close to me, watching the bag and following me. I gave it to her and she went away with it, and then came back with the bag on her pectoral fin, on her beak or even on her dorsal fin. She then stayed at 20 meters, surfacing with the bag on her beak. I took it as “Come get it” and started swimming after her, which she seem to enjoy a lot. Of course, she’s so clever that it’s quite difficult to get the bag back but I succeeded a few times and gave it back to her so we could play more. While I was trying to get the bag back once more (she swims just close enough so you hope to get it but she knows what she’s doing…), the plastic bag broke in two parts: the biggest one was in my hands and the handle was around her beak ! She had her mouth wide open, the bag’s handle was annoying her and got stuck around her beak, at the closest spot of the beak near the melon. She stopped swimming (we were swimming quite fast and not straight since we had been playing) and turned her head towards me ! (Nice teeth!) I came closer since she stayed very calm and I approached my two hands near her to take the plastic bag piece out of there. She understood she had to close her mouth a bit to let the plastic bag go! She stayed near me, still interested by the plastic bag game (with the piece I had kept), but we played a lot calmer.

Then, while she came close to me to watch the bag, I decided to rest on the back (floating with the buoyancy of the wetsuit) and I kept the plastic bag up my belly. Dusty came close, her head up my belly. I rubbed her very softly, then she got herself on her side and I got myself progressively on her (both of us were floating : she was a bit under the sea surface and I was on the surface). I couldn’t see her eyes because I was hugging her at the mid-part of her body but could imagine she was closing her eyes like she did yesterday with Grégor and me. Then I quietly put my hands on her back, at the base of her dorsal fin, hoping she would go away and pull me (saying “Go, dusty, Go!” but she apparently enjoyed more this great hug than a possible rapid ride. Grégor was still filming the whole scene. We could also see that she has new scratches on her body: some of them were not there yesterday.

She slowly moved away and we played a little bit more with the bag, then again more rapidly. While she was swimming fast (because I was after her), she lost the bag that she was keeping on one of her pectoral fins but caught it back with her fluke! At that moment, I felt like playing dolphin-football: she was Ronaldo and I was nothing more than a beginner! She had the bag on her beak (she just keeps it away from her eyes) and swam between underwater rocks while I was swimming after her at the surface level. It’s like a hide-and-seek game combined with dolphin-football with a plastic bag as the ball. She then swam towards Grégor and let the bag go near him (he was filming while being in one-meter deep water, near the beach). She also put her throat on his right foot and he could feel vibrations like she was doing something with her throat.

Grégor decided to come with us (the battery was dead) and we played the bag-game near the rocks at the right of the beach. Grégor succeeded once to catch the bag from Dusty : he was standing on an underwater rock and then jumped and dove towards her while she was swimming fast but close to us (like meaning “Just even try, you won’t get it”). She opened her mouth wide open after that human “victory” at her game and then never came close to him while she had the bag.

We spent the afternoon near Black Head and the Cliffs of Moher, hoping to see at least one of the three cetacean species that a friend saw ten years ago : Orcas, Risso's dolphin and Minke whale, but we only saw waves. We then came back at 7.30 pm. The Irish family of the first day was back and they played with Dusty at the beach place, in the shallow water without wetsuits. Dusty was coming close to them to be rubbed (despite a lots of waves and the shallowness of the water) and she brought to the kids the seaweed that we had been playing with. The girls threw the seaweed away and she kept bringing it back. We took the family’s address to be able to give them the video of this great moment…

Date Posted: 20/07/2002
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