It is now almost 40 years since thousands of spectators lined the quay to catch a glimpse of the orca when he swam up the River Foyle in November 1977 and hung around the stretch of the river along the city centre for several days.
Killer whale expert Andy Foote and Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust Science Officer Dr Conor Ryan in Scotland have compared old photographs and footage uploaded onto Facebook to confirm the match, and have said he is now at least 58 years old- almost twice the 30-year life expectancy for a killer whale.
Sightings Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Pádraig Whooley said: “This match places Comet very much at the upper limits of the typical life expectancy of male killer whales.”
Dopey Dick is believed to have been chasing a dinner of fish up the Foyle and the army was brought in along with officials who tried to lure him back out using a side of beef and whale whistles.
Dr Foote said: “When I saw the photos on Facebook, I noticed that the white eye patch of Dopey Dick sloped backwards in a really distinctive fashion. This is a trait we see in all the West Coast Community whales, but it’s not that common in other killer whale populations. The photographs were all quite grainy, but it was still possible to see some of the distinctive features unique to Comet. I couldn’t believe it – he was already a full grown male back in 1977, when I was just five-years old!”
It has emerged however that, sadly, Dopey, who is now in his old age, is unlikely to have sired any Wee Dopeys during his life.
He is part of a small pod known as the West Coast Community of killer whales, the UK’s only known resident population of orcas and one which is at risk of imminent extinction.
Experts say the four males and four females who make up the West Coast crew are not known to interact with other orca populations in the north-east Atlantic, and since studies began, have never successfully reproduced. One of the pod, Lulu, sadly perished after being stranded on the Isle of Tiree recently.
Photographic evidence from researchers and the public has shown that Comet is still a frequent visitor to the coast of Ireland. He was last spotted off the Isle of Skye around 18 months ago.
For more information go to: www.whaledolphintrust.co.uk.