PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A typical day on the water turned out to be a life-saving endeavor for Pensacola man Toby Moore and his family. They saved a baby dolphin from suffocating in a heroic effort Thursday afternoon.
But Moore told WKRG News 5 the trip was unlikely. It was only his third trip out on the water since being diagnoses with terminal brain cancer about four years ago. Moore said it was a blessed day to begin with, a “family fishing trip” with his wife and two daughters. Moore said he never thought it would turn out to be such a feel-good story.
A popular spot in Pensacola for fishing, Sand Island is hundreds of yards of pristine blue water, roughly two to five feet deep, located between NAS Pensacola and the end of Johnson’s Beach. Moore said it reminds people of The Florida Keys.
Before his diagnosis, Moore spent as much time as he could on the water fishing in what is now his 20-year-old Old Cape Horn boat.
“It’s [fishing] just what I love to do. and that’s what one of the main reasons I moved to Florida is for the water,” said Moore.
Moore, with a smile from ear to ear, boated his family of four towards Sand Island, carrying out his normal rip line checks because he wanted to make sure he didn’t run his engine over any trash. He also wanted to check for any bait in the area.
“We saw some dolphins already start to come close, and I love to slow up and just get a good look at them, it never gets old,” said Moore. “We could quickly tell this baby dolphin had something wrong, it had something attached to it right in that rip line with all that junk [trash, fishing gear, etc.] struggling to get a breath.”
Moore knew he had to act fast. The channel is busy. Thousands of boats come in and out every day. Moore phoned the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida while his wife and two daughters began fanning off boats to save the baby dolphin from getting run over by other boats.
After notifying WSNF, Moore received a phone call learning help was on the way. He did not realize the voice on the other side of the phone would turn out to be long-time friend Robert Turpin, Marine Resources Manager for Escambia County, who he had not been in contact with for over a decade.
“This was a happy ending,” said Turpin. “Often times when we respond to marine animal stranding, the endings are less than happy, but in this case, we saved a life.”
Roughly an hour would pass before Turpin and Mark Nicholas could arrive on the scene. Moore says it was a magnificent scene watching the other dolphins distract boaters by “swimming 100 feet away with splashing and maneuvering.”
Moore saw the rescue boat was too large for the necessary maneuvers, so he gave them two options: let him get on the boat and do it himself, or have one of the rescue team members jump over and let Moore maneuver his smaller boat to the baby dolphin.
“Because of the height of our boat, it wasn’t possible to reach the dolphin,” said Turpin. “Toby graciously offered Mark [Nicholas] to hop aboard his boat and quickly release the dolphin.”
The baby dolphin was released from the “mess of trash” on the main fishing line on the first try and immediately reacquainted with its presumed mother and father. Moore said it was extremely gratifying to see the baby get back together with his “mama” and swim off away from the passage way.
“If you listen in the video closely, right when we cut the line, you can hear the baby squeak,” said Moore. “It was just awesome, there is no doubt this dolphin knew what were doing and we knew that dolphin wouldn’t have made it.”
Moore took to Facebook to share the full story:
A day I will never forget, saving a baby dolphin! Had my first day this summer where I felt good enough to take the family out in our little boat to nearby Sand Island so they could get out and swim. On our way, we saw a baby dolphin struggling to breathe and swim, right in the middle of the tight boat channel by NAS. I called and spoke with an old friend Robert Turpin at Marine Resources Division, and kept the boat near the baby, so no other boats would run over it. About an hour later, Robert got there and could not put a soft gaff into line/net and the garbage stuck on the baby dolphin. I told them to have one get on my small boat and I could maneuver it better and we were able to do what’s on the video. We saved this beauty and it was a blessing for us to play such a role.Toby Moore
Under the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, entanglement of marine mammal and endangered species are all protected. Bottlenose dolphins, though, are not considered threatened or endangered under the Act. Turpin said he does not mind people assuming the species is endangered, because they “do deserve protection.”
Turpin’s department responded to two entangled sea turtles just a day ago. He said he unfortunately received calls regarding entangled marine life weekly. He says marine turtles are becoming increasingly more susceptible to tangling of fishing gear, which are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
“These animals are being hooked by either active fishers and getting caught as one would catch a fish,” said Turpin. “We do what we can to prevent that.”
Turpin stressed the importance of properly disposing of trash including fishing line, which is recyclable, as well as giving boaters another notice to be aware of anything floating in the water to pick up. He says he finds loads of trash floating out in all of the waterways. His team also walks the beaches every morning from May until August for trash as well as monitoring sea turtles for nesting and hatchings.
Turpin felt compelled to let people know that trying to save an entangled species could be viewed as a violation of the federal law. He believes there should be some type of good Samaritan act relating to these situations. He also wanted to make it clear that land-based litter often ends up in the waterways as well.
“Quite a bit of effort goes into the county level protection and managing our waterways,” said Turpin. “A plastic bag rolling around in the street is one storm drain away from polluting our waters.”
If you see an entanglement of a marine mammal, Turpin urges you to call 850-595-FISH, which rings to his personal cell phone. He has a network of properly trained responders who will assist in any situation.
People need to see something that’s positive and has a good ending added Moore. For a man with a terminal illness, I think we can all take a page out of his book. No matter what is going on in your life, you can always help others.
They are just such wonderful creations that god made,” said Moore. “It was a great moment and it was a gift for us and much it was for the dolphin.”
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