Friday 23 March 2018

'Don’t think you’re God’s gift just cause you’re in the water' - Fergus Finlay warns others to treat dolphins with respect

Fergus Finlay attacked by a dolphin
Fergus Finlay attacked by a dolphin

David Kearns

Barnardos chief Fergus Finlay has warned others not to take dolphins lightly as he admitted he was “very lucky” to escaped unscathed from a dolphin attack in the Aran Islands.

The former Labour adviser was swimming around Inis Oirr harbour in County Galway with his daughter and two grandchildren when the dolphin, known as Dusty, head-butted him full force in the upper thighs.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, the charity chief (65) said he blamed himself for the incident because he had “stupidly ignored the signs warning swimmers about the dangers.”

“That sign says you need to get out of the water quickly as possible, so it was my own fault I’m afraid,” he told the RTÉ radio show.

Mr Finlay said he mistook the tail flapping as a sign of playfulness.

“I should have read the signs… really, that is what everyone should do.”

“Don’t think you’re God’s gift to dolphins just cause you’re in the water.”

Dusty the dolphin was known for erratic attacks when she was in County Clare, and since her move to Inis Oirr last year, signs have been put up around the harbour warning swimmers to be careful.

Mr Finlay said, in hindsight, he should not have moved towards the dolphin, mistaking her flapping tail as a sign of playfulness.

"She started flapping her tail in the water and I thought she wanted to play. She didn't," Mr Finlay told the Herald.

"She didn't want me in her space, so she took the action that she thought was appropriate - it was very frightening.

"She came straight at me and sort of rammed me with her head into what I'd politely call my upper thighs and knocked me off my feet.

"She then turned, moved back a bit and waited to see what my next move was.

"What I did next was get out of the water quickly."

While the 65-year-old said the encounter “frightened the life” out of him, he escaped relatively unscathed, suffering only a bit of stiffness for the following few days.

"I thought for a second she was going to go under and try and flip me over, and I really don't know what I would have done then because I used to be quite a good swimmer but I don't have the fitness for it any more," he said.

Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Water Group said swimmers have to be aware of the dangers with dolphins.

“It’s hard to know what is going through Dusty’s mind. Is she protecting herself? Does she feel threatened,” Dr Berrow said.

“Suddenly when someone as big as Dusty rams anyone it is going to hurt as she is a big powerful animal. You are talking serious injuries and somebody is going to get seriously hurt.

“People do need to be aware that she is a wild animal and unpredictable and to respect that. When you do see the warning signs, do leave the water straight away and no messing as she is wild animal,” Mr Berrow said.

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