VIDEO: Brave Florida man rescues turtle hooked, tangled in fishing line

Posted at 6:05 AM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-06 06:05:02-05

(WFLA/NBC) - An incredible turtle rescue was caught on camera off Florida's Gulf Coast.

A massive loggerhead sea turtle was in danger after it was snagged by a fish hook, so a person dove into the water to save the day.

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The witnesses said they have never seen anything like this.

On Monday afternoon, Rob Merlino was fishing off the Venice Pier when he thought he caught a big fish.

"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," said Merlino.

Unfortunately he was right.

He accidentally hooked a giant loggerhead sea turtle. It was too big to drag to the beach, so a witness named Austin Selby dove in to help.

"You could see the hook on the right hand side, all the way in, it was just a big hook. It's a shark hook. It's a good size," said witness Jeff Hyde.

The loggerhead weighed around 300 pounds and was roughly 5 feet long.

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.

At one point, he reached to get the hook out. The turtle was really fast and just nipped and just missed him. That would've taken his hand right off," said Merlino

 After about 15 minutes, Selby finally unhooked the turtle and set it free. He's being hailed as a hero.

"He did it like a champ. Very brave," said Hyde. "That turtle would've died probably, if that wrapped around its neck or the hook did some damage, but he saved him."

Selby politely declined an interview request.

Officials at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota say fishermen who snag a turtle, you should never cut the line but should call a wildlife experts.

Courtesy: WFLA-TV via NBC News Channel