It’s hard to fathom considering the depth of events to have shaped Derry over recent years. But this week, thirty four years ago, the misguided adventures of a whale nicknamed Dopey Dick had the city hooked.
‘Huge Whale in the Foyle’, the front page of the ‘Journal’ of November 8, 1977, exclaimed.
“Golfers at City of Derry Golf Club couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw what seemed to be a whale swimming in the Foyle,” the report continues before adding that officials from the Foyle Fisheries Commission “confirmed yesterday that it was in fact, a whale, of over 20 feet in length.”
Little at this stage was known about the strange visitor to the Foyle.
“What type the whale is is not yet known,” the ‘Journal’ continues, “How the whale arrived in the river Foyle so far upstream is baffling marine experts,” it says.
Dr Richard Briggs of the Fisheries research lab in Coleraine said he had never heard of such an incident in the Foyle.
By the following Friday, November 11, The Journal front page report said ‘Operation Rescue launched but Dopey Dick stays put in the Foyle’.
By now the city had taken to the strange visitor - now identified as a killer whale - and bestowed upon him the moniker Dopey Dick.
A rescue operation launched the previous day had had little success.
Rescuers had hoped to herd the mammoth mammal as far as the bridge but “ it apparently decided it was not going any further and it turned around and went back up stream,” the ‘Journal’ notes.
Crowds were now flocking to the river on a daily basis to see the strange beast in the Foyle.
But still no one was sure how Dick came to be there.
“One theory being put forward, “ the report continues, “is that it’s radar system has been damaged by parasites.”
Dr Tony Pitcher , a University of Ulster biology professor, said Dopey Dick is most likely a male killer whale, and further noted that whales affected by parasites often run aground on beaches and will strand themselves again if towed out to sea.
He also noted that killer whales are “ voracious predators... who could kill a seal with a single snap of its jaws.”
The Professor, the ‘Journal’ records, is not aware of any incidents where a killer whale has attacked humans.
Despite the Professor’s assurances, the Derry public needn’t have worried.
On Tuesday November 15, the Journal front page records ‘Dopey Dick went quietly.’
The killer whale it seems was not as dopey as Derry thought.
“He headed off down river of his own accord on Saturday afternoon,” says the ‘Journal’, “ He has not been since and it is beleived he might at last be on his way back to his natural home.”
Searches of the Foyle, from Magheramason to Culmore Point could find no trace of the whale who had entered Derry folklore.
The Journal reports the whale “ broke the psychological barrier and was last seen down river at Culmore on Saturday afternoon.”
The last sighting of Dick - at Rosses Point - “was as dusk fell on Saturday evening.”
Those who hadn’t seen him had missed the boat..
Police said they had been inundated with calls from people from far and wide wanting to know if the whale was still in the Foyle “ because they wanted to travel to Derry so that their children could get a glimpse of it.”
But Dopey Dick, one of Derry’s great characters, was gone.
But has he been forgotten? Did you see Dopey Dick?
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