Boater Scott Thompson credits an average-sized harbor seal with helping him stay focused and swim safely about five hours after accidentally falling from his boat in the freezing Pacific waters of the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of Southern California coasts.
An emotional Thompson told KABC: “I was like, ‘Great, this is how I’m going to die. “”He said he was thinking, “”Today is the day I’m going to die. “”
He was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt when he fell in the water. As he watched his boat drift away from him into the ocean, he said he was starting to panic. Thompson, an experienced diver and swimmer, found himself in dangerously cold night waters.
“That’s when I realized, like, OK, we have problems,” he said. says KABC.
He was miles from shore, so he started swimming toward an oil rig, lit against the nighttime horizon. He said he heard a splash in the water and felt a harbor seal continually pressing against him.
“The seal was going underwater and it came to nudge me, like a dog that comes to nudge you in the leg,” Thompson said.
And this interaction managed to focus his mind and give him hope.
“Just keep swimming, you have to go home with your family.” Thompson says he started thinking. “I was devastating myself, in my head, just imagining my daughters and my son growing up without me, and my wife, you know, without a husband to support her… I wasn’t thinking about sharks or anything like that. that until I heard that splash.”
He wondered what had made the seal interact with him like that.
“Did he know, like hey, this human is in trouble, hey keep it up man?” he said.
He said he swam for five hours, freezing and exhausted, and managed to reach an oil rig.
“It started to get brighter and I’m crying. And I’m like screaming at the sky.” he said.
Members of the oil rig’s crew were able to help him and the Coast Guard took him to hospital where he was treated for symptoms of hypothermia.
Paul Amaral, a Channel Watch Marine said KABC, “Even putting on a wetsuit, getting ready, getting into that water and swimming to the platform was horrible.” He said: “I can’t imagine being in the water with shorts and a t-shirt at night. There was no moon, I mean it was dark.”