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Dublin: 2°C Saturday 4 December 2021

Fergus Finlay had a terrifying encounter with this well-known dolphin

“… to my knowledge, a headbutt is head to head contact. This was head to nether regions contact.”

Image: George Karbas via George Karbas Photography

YOU MAY REMEMBER warnings being issued to swimmers on the Aran Islands about the erratic behaviour of a dolphin known as ‘Dusty’ around this time last year, after the mammal changed location.

After 14 years or so in the north Clare area, the dolphin is now frequenting Inis Oírr.

As many as five people were injured by Dusty (or ‘Sandy’ as the dolphin is sometimes called) the previous summer, around Doolin harbour.

One woman even had to be medivaced back home to Germany.

Latest encounter

The dolphin’s still in and around Inis Oírr this summer – and her latest encounter with a human happened to involve a rather high-profile bather: Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay.

Speaking about the experience to Today FM’s Anton Savage this morning, the former Labour party adviser explained that he had been swimming with his grandchildren when Dusty began to circle.

At first, he thought she was being playful – but then her mood began to change.

Finlay was headbutted in the legs by the mammal, and at one point became fearful she was going to swim underneath him and flip him over.

“She knocked me off my feet. I legged it as fast as I could out of the water,” he told the show.

My wife said that she headbutted me. But to my knowledge, a headbutt is head to head contact. This was head to nether regions contact.

“She knocked me off onto my backside and mission accomplished, she swam away.

“I was stiff and sore for a couple of days.”

In a tweet to TheJournal.ie, the charity boss noted, “It was my own stupidity – I don’t want to frighten people away from the beach!”.

Signs erected in the area warn swimmers that if the dolphin’s tail began to slap, it’s a warning she’s about to get aggressive – and that swimmers should get out of the water.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has warned that it’s never wise to swim with wild dolphins or whales in Ireland.

“The risk is not only to humans but also to the dolphin as habituation to humans increases risk of injury or death to the dolphin.”

The group said last year that it was concerned many visitors, especially in the summer “do not recognise the signals that Dusty sends out when she is not happy with their behaviour”.


Dusty’s reactions to swimmers who get too close can be observed in the below video, from 2012.

As poster John Landy notes, the dolphin “had been playful and friendly all afternoon, then one of the bathers went too far and the results can be seen”.

Source: John Lundy/YouTube

Read: “Don’t swim with this dolphin” islanders warned, as ‘Dusty’ changes location >

Read: A new ‘solitary’ dolphin’s moved to Irish waters… swimmers are being urged to keep their distance

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