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Television and film actor Dick Van Dyke has been a pop culture icon since the ’60s, so it’s safe to bet he has a lot of incredible stories to tell. But one story in particular about how he was saved by a pod of porpoises really stands out.

As the star of The Dick Van Dyke Show recalled, he ended up out in the ocean in a desperate situation. How did he end up in such peril and how did the porpoises help? Plus, is it realistic that sea mammals would save a human’s life?

Dick Van Dyke smiles with his hands up, in a blue collared shirt in front of a yellow background
Dick Van Dyke | Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Dick Van Dyke enjoyed surfing and drifted out to sea while asleep

While chatting with Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show in 2010, Van Dyke, then 85, said he’d once enjoyed surfing. But when Ferguson asked if he still caught waves at that point, Van Dyke told him, “No, not anymore.”

He said he used to paddle out on a 10-foot longboard and had a preference for the cold waters of the east coast — specifically Virginia Beach.

“I went out once and I fell asleep on that board,” he shared. “I did! And I woke up out of sight of land.”

But the story gets even more incredible. Van Dyke said, “I looked around and I started paddling with the swells, and I start seeing fins swimming around me. And I thought, you know, ‘I’m dead.'”

“They turned out to be porpoises,” he concluded. “They pushed me all the way to shore. I’m not kidding.”

Sea mammals sometimes save people from danger

Van Dyke’s story is so incredible some have insinuated it’s too far-fetched to be true. But it’s possible to be assisted by sea mammals. One surfer named Todd Endris found that out while on his board one morning in California.

A 2007 article in Today describes how a Jaws-like great white shark surprised Endris and struck him three times, “peeling the skin off his back and mauling his right leg to the bone.”

However, he said a pod of bottlenose dolphins encircled him long enough to allow him to get to shore where first aid saved his life. He recalled that they’d been playing in the surf and intervened in his interaction with the shark. He credited them with keeping the predator occupied while he escaped for shore on a wave.

And in 2004 in New Zealand, four people reported being encircled and “aggressively” herded by dolphins. As the swimmers began to think the dolphins were attacking them, they saw the fin and shadow of a large shark. That’s when they realized the dolphins had been protecting them.

As Mysterious Universe reports, this story was corroborated by multiple witnesses. The shark reportedly stayed around the swimmers for a full 40 minutes before giving up due to the dolphins.

In fact, there are plenty of recorded instances of whales, dolphins, and porpoises swimming in to help humans in need. The stories date back as far as Ancient Greece.


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Dick Van Dyke might have been shark bait

While Van Dyke didn’t recall seeing any sharks nearby, one common theme in stories of sea creatures saving the lives of humans is the presence of predators. There have been reports of dolphins saving drowning humans, but they tend to intervene in the affairs of non-drowning humans who are being preyed upon.

So, maybe the porpoises just knew he shouldn’t be out in the middle of the ocean asleep and decided to give him a lift in the right direction. But it seems there could have been another reason they were helping him on his way.

Whatever the case, it should be easy for most to understand if that was the last time Van Dyke, now 95, went surfing.