Seal Helps Man Who Fell Into Ocean Complete 5-Hour Swim to Safety

A man who found himself stranded in the ocean in the dark of night has credited a seal with helping him to swim to safety.

Sea urchin diver Scott Thompson fell from his boat into the Santa Barbara Channel, between Santa Cruz Island and the California coast, after sunset in January.

The waters of the Santa Barbara Channel are home to predators including great white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks.

He had to swim for several hours to save himself, and he said that a seal helped to nudge him along when his strength started failing him.

Thompson had failed to take safety precautions as he relieved himself off the side of the boat, and fell overboard after a powerful wave rocked the vessel and knocked him off balance.

He was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the cold waters, and could only watch as his boat, which he had left in gear, sailed into the distance without him.

"I just started swimming as hard as I could towards the boat, and it really didn't take too long to realize that it's getting farther, I'm not getting closer," he told ABC on Tuesday.

He decided to swim towards Platform Gail, an offshore oil rig that was closer to him than any landmass was, but little did he know that the exhausting journey would take him around five hours.

He said that he was driven by thoughts of his wife, daughters and son having to support themselves without him.

"I wasn't thinking about sharks or anything like that, until I hear this splash. It's this little medium-sized harbor seal," he said.

"The seal would go underwater and he came up and nudged me, like a dog comes up and nudges your leg. Did it know? 'Hey, this human's in trouble. Keep going, dude.'"

Harbor seals can grow to 6 feet in length and 235 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare recommends that people keep a distance of 150 feet from seals and other marine mammals, for the safety of all parties.

Thompson has also written a blog post about his experience, in which he said that the seal twice bumped him in the back of his legs with its nose when he had stopped swimming and started treading water.

He wrote that he started speaking to the seal, singing Grateful Dead songs to it, and telling it jokes, which "really helped me because it took my mind off my situation."

Thompson eventually reached the oil rig and managed to haul himself onto it, before members of the crew aboard the vessel helped him to warm up by letting him take a shower.

He was then taken to the hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia.

His boat was found on Anacapa Island, 5 miles east of Santa Cruz Island.

A harbor seal swimming
Stock photo of a seal. Thompson said that the harbor seal gave him a nudge whenever he started treading water instead of swimming. Clinton Harris/iStock