The sea can be a treacherous, deadly place. Especially the cold waters around our planet’s poles. There’s a reason why stories of sea monsters at the edge of the world have been told as long as humans have explored the ocean: sea monsters are real. Sure we’ve caught a bunch of them and named a bunch of them. But, really, that just means we’ve caught and named monsters. What else would you call a giant squid, or a narwhal, or a killer whale? “Animals” is way too pedestrian, my friend, and you’ve lost your sense of wonder. Consider this. A Russian Navy vessel was recently attacked and sunk by one of the most fearsome monsters of the frozen polar sea: the walrus.
Yeah, that’s right. Earlier this month, a Russian Navy boat was brought down to Davy Jones’ locker by one of those Wilford Brimley-looking beasts. The Russian tugboat Altai was on a scientific expedition through the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the Barents Sea when it ran into a mother walrus and her calves, according to the Russian news outlet The Barents Observer. Like many mammals, walrus’ tend to get pretty riled up when something or someone appears to be threatening their children. So the walrus attacked, and in the contest between tugboat and walrus, the walrus won.
According to the Russian military statement on the incident, no loss of life or equipment was recorded. They say:
“[The] group of researchers had to flee from a female walrus, which, while protecting its cubs, attacked an expedition boat.
Serious troubles were avoided thanks to the clear and well-coordinated actions of the Northern Fleet service members, who were able to take the boat away from the animals without harming them.”
The Russian Geographical Society, however, states (as translated by Military.com) that the walrus did batter the boat well enough to sink it, but notes that there was no loss of life:
“Walruses attacked the participating boat. The boat sank, but the tragedy was avoided thanks to the clear actions of the squad leader. All the landing participants safely reached the shore.”
According to the Barents Observer, there was a drone flying in close proximity to the walrus family, but whether that was the trigger for the attack or not is unknown.
The tugboat Altai was in the Franz Josef Land Archipelago tracing the routes of 19th-century explorers Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht, who discovered the archipelago. Like the 19th-century explorers, their mission was to study flora, fauna, and glaciers in the archipelago. And like many 19th-century explorers they also ran into trouble with sea monsters.
If you think a walrus, mustached and tusked as they are, attacking and sinking a boat full of scientists is a funny image, you’re right. But bear in mind that walruses can also grow to a few thousand pounds, and they do have really big spears sticking out of their faces. As much as their adorable mustaches look like they want a hug, let this be a lesson, should you find yourself navigating between glaciers on a tugboat: leave the walruses alone.