Dick Van Dyke, the legendary actor who has cuddled ducklings and danced with penguins on screen, once said a pod of porpoises saved his life after he fell asleep on a surfboard. If that story sounds too far-fetched to be real, you can hear it from the actor himself in the video below.
The Mary Poppins star appeared as the guest on an episode of the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson in 2010 and told his tale. “I went out once and fell asleep on [my] board,” Van Dyke revealed to much laughter. “And I woke up out of sight of land, and I looked around and I started paddling with the swells. And I started seeing fins swimming around me, and I thought ‘I’m dead.’ They turned out to be porpoises. They pushed me all the way to shore — I’m not kidding! — pushed me all the way to shore.” Of course, Ferguson jokingly replied that it was “because [the porpoises] had seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
If Van Dyke’s story is true (unfortunately, no one could confirm the story with the porpoises), it wouldn’t be the first instance of marine mammals saving humans. Dolphins, which belong to the same family as porpoises, have rescued humans from sharks on numerous occasions. Why do these sea creatures defend helpless humans from attack? One theory is that dolphins’ mothering instincts drive them to protect humans in distress. When there is an injured dolphin, the rest of the pod will swim underneath it to support it if it cannot swim. It’s not surprising that they would use those same behaviors with humans.
We’re all familiar with stories of humans saving animals, so it’s heartwarming to see that the reverse can happen, too. Even if we can’t explain why, some animals do seem to feel a level of empathy toward humans — which is surely a lesson in selflessness we would do well to follow.