A swimmer who was saved by the coastguard two and a half miles out at sea off the coast of Ireland may have been helped by dolphins, his rescuers said.
The male swimmer, believed to be in his 30s, was surrounded by a pod of dolphins when he was located off Tralee Bay, Co Kerry, after 12 hours in the water.
He was saved by a team from Fenit RNLI Lifeboat, who said he was “a very lucky individual”.
The swimmer, believed to be from Derry, was found at 8.30pm on Sunday, exhausted and suffering from hypothermia.
The alarm had been raised after his clothes were discovered on a beach at the village of Castlegregory. He was wearing only swimming trunks when he was found in the water.
Fenit RNLI said the man was brought to Fenit Harbour and met by an ambulance, which took him to hospital.
In a statement, the rescue team said: “At 8.30pm, volunteer lifeboat crew with Fenit RNLI spotted a pod of dolphins and a head above the water about two and a half miles off Castlegregory beach.
“The casualty was conscious and immediately recovered on to the lifeboat and brought to Fenit Harbour to be taken to hospital.”
RNLI coxswain Finbarr O’Connell told the Irish Independent newspaper there were “a lot of dolphins around” when they found the swimmer.
“Maybe they helped him in some way or another – who knows?” he said.
Fenit RNLI Lifeboat operations manager Gerard O’Donnell said: “After a long and exhaustive search, members of the lifeboat crew were overjoyed to sight the missing swimmer in the water.
“They had been scanning the water for any sign of movement and were worried with light fading that they would not find anyone.
Watch: Underwater camera captures dolphins in action
“Even at this time of year, the water can be very cold. When the lifeboat crew found them they were a good distance from the shore and were exhausted.’
“We would advise that anyone undertaking a swim lets people know where they are going and when they are expected back. This was a very lucky individual.”
Can dolphins help humans out at sea?
There have been a number of reported cases of dolphins helping swimmers who are stranded in sea waters.
Dolphins have been known to show support for sick pod mates, helping them to the surface so they can breath, according to Dolphins World.
It is thought this kind of behaviour may be extended to humans.
Dolphins have been known to protect swimmers from sharks. This may be because they already see sharks as a danger to themselves and their young.
Through echolocation, dolphins can hear the human heartbeat and sense when someone is in distress, experts say.