VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — A daring sea rescue was all caught on camera this week in Venice.
On Monday afternoon, Rob Merlino was fishing off the Venice Pier when he hooked something big.
“Someone said, ‘I just saw a turtle, I hope it’s not the turtle.’ And when I pulled, it felt like a turtle, because a turtle feels like a freight train on the end of the line,” recalled Merlino.
When it reached the surface, he saw it – a 300-pound loggerhead sea turtle, roughly five feet long.
It was too big to drag to the beach, so a Good Samaritan named Austin Selby dove in to help.
“You could see the hook on the right-hand side, all the way in. It’s a shark hook, it’s a good size,” said Sharky’s Manager Jeff Hyde.
The snagged turtle was in trouble. The line got tangled around its neck and one of its fins, and Selby struggled to set it free.
“There’s probably a good 20 feet of line plus the leader it could get all tangled up, it could hurt him. It could choke the turtle,” said Merlino.
The turtle did not want Selby’s help. At one point, it even dragged him underwater. But an exhausted Selby kept trying.
A huge group stood by and watched.
“You don’t want to see anything happen to it or die, so everyone’s trying to help. But what are you gonna do? We can’t all jump in,” said Hyde.
Selby really struggled.
“At one point, he reached in to get the hook out and the turtle really fast just nipped and just missed him, but that would’ve taken his hand right off,” said Hyde.
After about 15 minutes, Selby finally unhooked the turtle and set it free.
“Doesn’t sound like a long time but it really was a long time, and that turtle dragged him every which way. And we were concerned for his safety because if he was too tired and he can’t get that thing off his wrist, the wire. That thing could have dragged him down and drowned him,” said Hyde.
Selby is being hailed as a hero.
“He did it like a champ. Very brave,” said Merlino.
“That turtle would’ve died probably if that wrapped around its neck or the hook did some damage, he probably would’ve died, but he saved him,” said Hyde.
Selby politely declined our interview request.
Officials from Mote Marine Lab say if you accidentally snag a turtle, do not cut the line. They say leaving line attached can help trained wildlife responders more easily remove the hook.
You are also encouraged to call your local wildlife rescue agency or FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.