A Russian navy boat embarking on a research expedition in the Arctic Sea sunk after being attacked by a female walrus who was defending her young, according to reports Monday.
The Altai, a tugboat operated by the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet, carried researchers from the Russian Geographical Society and other expedition participants into waters near a remote island chain called Franz Josef Land in the Arctic Sea, Ars Technica reported.
The boat dispatched a smaller inflatable landing craft in shallow waters off of Wilczek Island to bring researchers ashore near Cape Heller. Before the boat could reach the beach, it was attacked by a female walrus who was probably “fearing for her cubs,” according to a press release from the Russian Geographical Society.
“The boat sank, but a tragedy was avoided thanks to the prompt action by the squad leader. All landing participants safely reached the shore,” the press release said. A separate press release from the Russian navy confirmed the attack but did not say the boat sank, The Barents Observer reported.
“During the landing at Cape Heller, a group of researchers had to flee from a female walrus who attacked an expedition boat when protecting her cub,” the Northern Fleet wrote. “Serious troubles were avoided thanks to the clear and well-coordinated actions of the Northern Fleet servicemen, who were able to take the boat away from the animals without harming them.”
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The expedition was meant to conduct glacial and biological surveys of the islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Researchers also collected artifacts from the 1874 Austro-Hungarian expedition that first mapped the island chain and the 1898-1899 expedition by American journalist Walter Wellman, who would later come to fame for trying to fly to the North Pole by airship, according to Ars Technica. The Russian Geographical Society also aimed to find the grave of Russian polar explorer Georgy Sedov, who perished while attempting to reach the North Pole in 1914.