Dingle fisheries officer honoured for identifying rare fish

Kevin Flannery says honorary degree belongs as much to ‘muintir na mara’ as to him

Dingle marine biologist Kevin Flannery examines the Bearcat fish which resides in the Artic region. Mr Flannery has been awarded with an honorary MSc from UCC for his work on Irish marine life. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Dingle marine biologist Kevin Flannery examines the Bearcat fish which resides in the Artic region. Mr Flannery has been awarded with an honorary MSc from UCC for his work on Irish marine life. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

 

He is more often seen holding some bug-eyed denizen of the deep, but on Thursday Kevin Flannery exchanged the pier-side for academia to accept an honorary degree from University College Cork (UCC).

The “go-to guy”every time an Irish trawler nets some unusual creature, Mr Flannery made the journey from his native Dingle to Cork to accept an honorary MSc for his work on Irish marine life.

Accompanied by his wife, Una and family, Mr Flannery was keen to stress that he saw the award as belonging as much to “muintir na mara” as it did to him.

“It’s a great privilege and honour for me and the fishing community all around the coast - it’s thanks to them that we have got so many rare and unusual species and specimens,” he said.

Mr Flannery began collecting and cataloguing unusual catches in 1980 following the death of his predecessor at the Department of the Marine, the late Michael Long.

“It started out as a hobby, basically carrying on a tradition - that the fishermen used to get a pint bottle of stout from Mike Long for every rare fish they brought into Dingle.

“At the time the pint bottle used to cost more than what they would get fishing and it got into their psyche and that’s how it continued and developed over the years,” he explained.

Founder of Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium, which attracts over 100,000 visitors annually, Mr Flannery spoke about some of the unusual species that fishermen have found in Irish waters.

“I suppose the most unusual was a deepwater jellyfish that took us four years to identify while one of the most fascinating was an Atlantic Football Fish that washed up in Waterville.

“At one stage, my family were afraid to open the fridge I used to store so many specimens there and we also kept some turtles in the bath for a while until we could ship them back.

“I suppose the biggest specimen we ever had was the great leatherback turtles -they live to 200 years and are about two to three tonne weight and they are fascinating creatures.

“A guy at UCC tagged them which showed them swimming all the way down to Africa, over to Brazil, back up to Canada over to Iceland before coming down off our west coast.

“They are totally dependent on jelly fish but they can’t distinguish jellyfish from plastic and we are killing them off because they are eating plastic dumped at sea.”

Mr Flannery says he has identified some 19 species new to Irish waters over the years, sending specimens to the Natural History Museum in Dublin for preservation.

“The majority of species we have found over the last 30 years are ones that have been moving up from Spain and Portugal and Africa as our waters get warmer with global warming.”

Former Dingle Harbour Master, Brian Farrell and Mark Boyden of the Coomhola Salmon Trust in West Cork were also conferred with Honorary MScs at UCC on Thursday.