In movies and sitcoms, over the years, Dick Van Dyke has been rescued from precarious situations by the likes of magical nannies and flying cars. But more recently, he’s been talking about his real-life rescue – by porpoises.
Van Dyke says he had to rely on the help of a pod of porpoises after apparently dozing off aboard his surfboard. “I’m not kidding,” the 84-year-old actor told reporters after an ill-fated trip to his local beach. “I woke up out of sight of land. I started paddling with the swells and I started seeing fins swimming around me and I thought ‘I’m dead!'”
The fins didn’t belong to sharks. “They turned out to be porpoises,” he said. “And they pushed me all the way to shore.”
People are often confused about the difference between porpoises and dolphins. Johnny Carson once explained on his late-night TV show that while a dolphin is a mammal, a porpoise is a fish. Not so! Porpoises are related to dolphins and whales, and are members of the family Phocoenidae, which includes six species.
They are smaller and stouter than dolphins, have a rounder head and spade-shaped teeth, and raise their young faster than dolphins do. Dick Van Dyke’s rescuers may well have been dolphins. The two kinds of animals sound similar, using higher-frequency emissions to communicate, hunt and navigate, compared to other species of cetaceans.