Talk about your fish tales — and this one’s even true.
A bottlenose dolphin leapt into a Marco Island woman’s deck boat Tuesday afternoon, triggering one of the strangest marine mammal rescues in recent memory at the Collier Boulevard boat ramp.
Dee Boge, 66, was returning from lunch on Goodland with five friends when the dolphin leapt into her 22-foot Hurricane deck boat south of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge.
Boge’s friends, Marge and John Superits, their son Mark, and their two teen-aged grandchildren from Illinois, Nicole and J.T., were in the boat when she noticed a pod of dolphins nearby and piloted the boat for a closer look.
As they enjoyed the show, one of the dolphins jumped out of the water, swirled around in front of the boat and came down on the boat’s front deck, right in the aisle, she said.
“It was unbelievable,” Boge said, still breathless hours after the close encounter. “We were like ‘Oh my god, oh my god, how are we going to get this dolphin off my boat.”’
Boge called SeaTow, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called her back with advice to keep the dolphin wet and to roll it onto its stomach instead of on its side.
The dolphin was thrashing around at first, but later calmed down, Boge said. It appeared not to have been injured except for a cut above its eye. No one on board was hurt, she said.
Boge went to the Collier Boulevard boat ramp, where officers from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Conservation Commission, Collier County Animal Control and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office met her about 2:45 p.m.
Rookery Bay staff took measurements of the dolphin, checked it for injuries, checked and timed its breathing and marked its dorsal fin with a water-resistant grease marker for future identification, Rookery Bay resources stewardship coordinator Jeff Carter said.
Everything checked out OK, and workers used a stretcher to put the dolphin back in the water. Carter estimated the dolphin weighed about 120 pounds.
The dolphin swam away, leaving Boge with a story of a lifetime.
“I still can’t get over the shock of it,” she said, back at home around 5 p.m. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I hope it never happens again.”
Chances are it won’t.
More than 20 years in the marine patrol business, and he’s never seen anything like it, Conservation Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam said.
“Fish, yeah. Tarpon, yeah. Barracuda, yeah, but never a very intelligent dolphin,” he said.
Still, officials urge boaters to stay a safe distance from dolphins when they are feeding.
The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits harassing or harming dolphins, but Tuesday’s incident didn’t rise to the level of a violation, Horadam said.
“This was just a bad luck day for the dolphin,” he said.