When Dolphins Save the Day: Amazing Rescues by Our Flippered Friends

A gregarious dolphin turned what began as a disastrous fishing trip into one man’s reason for hope.

The trip went terribly awry in the Gulf of Mexico in late September 2014. Joey Trevino, his uncle and two friends ended up in the water when their 25-foot boat sank. Fortunately each man had a life vest. The men got separated, and Trevino ended up floating alone for hours upon hours.

“You’re looking at the clouds,” Trevino told ABC News. “You’re looking at whatever to try to keep you focused.” Eventually, though, after more than 24 hours alone in the water he just wanted to stop trying. His despair was intense. He told KIII TV he even considered slipping out of his life jacket and letting it all end.

That’s when fate stepped in. A dolphin appeared near Trevino and suddenly everything changed.

“He kind of bumped me, and I kind of rubbed him, and he kind of changed my attitude right there,” Trevino told ABC News. “He kind of … gives you hope.”

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Trevino thought he was interacting with a porpoise, but experts say it was probably a bottlenose dolphin. There are many more dolphin species out there (about 32) than porpoises (about six). No matter, though. That friendly nudge probably saved Trevino’s life.

Dolphins to the Rescue… Again and Again

Countless tales exist about dolphins coming to the rescue of humans in distress. Dolphins will indeed attack a shark to defend their little ones and themselves. Many people say dolphins unquestionably took purposeful steps to save their lives as well.

Not everyone believes that dolphins intentionally rescue people, of course. Try telling that to the people who were actually there. They’re convinced. Consider these stories and decide for yourself.

1. Swimmer Gets Hour-Long Dolphin Escort (2014)

During a difficult eight-hour marathon swim across New Zealand’s Cook Strait, British swimmer Adam Walker noticed a creature over 6 feet long that looked like a shark swimming beneath him.

From out of nowhere, a pod of 10 dolphins suddenly joined Walker, swimming alongside him. They stayed by his side for more than an hour. The suspected shark disappeared. Watch video of this amazing swim here (no, you won’t see the shark):

Were those dolphins protecting Walker or just having fun?

“It would be a nice thought [if] they were thinking, we will just help our pal get through,” Walker later said. “I’d like to think they were protecting me and guiding me home,” he noted on his Facebook page.

2. Dolphins Encircle Four Swimmers Off New Zealand Beach (2004)

Rob Howes, his daughter and her friends were swimming off a New Zealand beach when they saw a 10-foot long great white shark. Nearby dolphins began swimming in circles around the four humans.

“They started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us,’” Howes told The Daily Mail. Howes said they kept up this apparently defensive maneuver for an amazing 40 minutes.

dolphin pod

“It [the shark] was only about two meters away from me, the water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face,” Howes added. “[The dolphins] had corralled us up to protect us.”

3. Lost Divers Say Dolphins Led Rescue Boats to Them (2004)

Twelve divers who got lost in the Red Sea believe dolphins helped save their lives. They’d been swept 45 miles away from their boat. A massive air and sea search failed to find them. Finally, after some 13 and a half hours, a boat approached from the distance.

“One of the most amazing things was, after we were rescued, the guys on the boat said there were dolphins jumping across the prow in the direction we were actually in,” diver Richard Hallam told The Telegraph.

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“We heard dolphins when we were in the water, we could hear their echo location,” Hallam added. “I think those dolphins drew attention to us. There are stories about dolphins helping humans in distress, protecting them. And I think those dolphins helped us.”

4. Dolphins Helped Elian Gonzales Make it Safely to America (2000)

Remember little Elian Gonzales? He was the Cuban boy who wound up in an international custody tug of war in 2000 after his mother drowned trying to get him from Cuba to Florida.

Elian told authorities that he’d been clinging to an inner tube after the boat he’d been in sank. He insisted that dolphins swimming near him helped him survive by pushing him each time his strength failed.

happy dolphins

5. Dick Van Dyke Says Porpoises Pushed Him to Shore

Actor Dick Van Dyke says he fell asleep on a surfboard as a young man and inadvertently began to drift out to sea with the tide.

“I woke up out of sight of land,” Van Dyke said on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. “I started paddling with the swells and I started seeing fins swimming around me and I thought ‘I’m dead!’” He was wrong.

“They turned out to be porpoises and they pushed me all the way to shore,” said Van Dyke. “I’m not kidding.”

These stories barely scratch the surface. There are an incredible number of tales about dolphins pushing drowning people onto shore, swimming between people and menacing sharks, and even battling other creatures on behalf of a human.

Knowing how incredibly intelligent dolphins are, is it so hard to believe one creature might sense the need of another one and come to its aid?

Photo credit (all images): Thinkstock

236 comments

Neville B.
Neville B3 years ago

I'm ashamed of the way some of us repay these wonderful creatures.

Dear Cathleen K., what an awesome post!

Dear Julie Dispain and Debbi -, please be careful about swimming with them, if not in the wild; some of these places are little better than SeaWorld : (

Dear Paul Lundbohm, beautifully put!
"We may have bigger brains but they have bigger hearts."

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Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago

Dolphins are amazing and beautiful creatures. And now we see they are compassionate, loving and brave, as well.

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Teresa W.
Teresa W4 years ago

I agree with Jennifer.

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Teresa W.
Teresa W4 years ago

amazing

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

I believe dolphins are more intelligent and compassionate than humans. These stories prove that fact. They give to humans more than they will ever see from us.

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Sara Sezun
Sara S4 years ago

Obviously, dolphins are not only very intelligent, but very compassionate as well. We should follow their example.

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Alexandra G.
Alexandra G4 years ago

beautiful animals

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vee s.
v s4 years ago

"We don't know why" says one poster - and I echo that. In view of the fact that we treat them so badly I DON'T KNOW WHY they should bother to helps us

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Aurea Walker

Our fellow sentient beings are far more intelligent than we credit them for! Here we are the supposed most intelligent species and we cannot communicate with them. So much for our being the superiors to them. Yes I do believe the stories of the dolphins helping and rescuing people in danger. Believe/know that they are more in tune with their danger radar than we are. Let's all be kind to all sentient beings and each other as well. Do so hope the Japanese STOP their cruel and murderous ways with dolphins and whales NOW!

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Malcolm B.
Malcolm B.4 years ago

In 1978 I documented another story to add to this about a boy from a sunken ship who was trying to swim ashore to get help for his two friends. When a shark threatened to attack the boy, a dolphin intervened and hit the shark so hard it knocked it out of the water! The witness to this story was Truly Nolan, I still have his letter confirming it. We don't know why, but at least sometimes, dolphins do save people.

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