A walrus attacked and sunk a Russian Navy vessel last week as it approached the shore of a remote Arctic island, according to the Russian Geographical Society (RGO).
Fortunately, the crew of the wrecked landing craft all made it to shore, and no walruses were harmed by the encounter. The incident is another example of how “polar latitudes are fraught with many dangers,” said the RGO in a statement, adding that the walrus may have been defending young pups.
The craft was dispatched from the Altai, a rescue tug that belongs to the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy. The Altai is currently on a scientific expedition to Franz Josef Land, an Arctic archipelago that is only inhabited by military personnel. The scientists onboard the landing vessel were on their way to land at Cape Geller on the island of Wilczek Land when the attack occurred.
“Serious troubles were avoided thanks to the clear and well-coordinated actions of the Northern Fleet servicemen,” said the Northern Fleet in a statement.
This is not the first time that walruses have shown that they will slam into vessels if provoked. In 2012, explorer Erik Boomer was kayaking near Ellesmere Island in Nunavut when he was attacked by a walrus.
“There was about 15 seconds of terror that happened when all of a sudden, a walrus came up out of the water literally right underneath and beside me,” Boomer told the CBC. "I saw the walrus's face and it was pushing me and I was getting spun around. I planted my paddle right between his eyes and held my distance and kept pushing off and kind of whacking him.”
Both Boomer and the walrus were unharmed by the encounter.
Though these walrus-vessel interactions show that the animals should not be underestimated, walruses don’t only approach boats to attack them. In 2006, for instance, a walrus was photographed sunning itself on a Russian submarine.
The Altai expedition has now resumed its mission of surveying Arctic glaciers and wildlife, and reconstructing the first scientific expeditions to explore Franz Josef Land.
For instance, the researchers are looking for the remains of Russian Arctic explorer Georgy Sedov, who died in 1914 while attempting to reach the North Pole. They are also retracing the journey of an Austro-Hungarian expedition to the archipelago in 1874, using an eyewitness account written by explorer Julius Payer, according to the Northern Fleet.
Hopefully, no more angry walruses are awaiting the researchers.