How to Stop a Menacing Walrus

If you’re not used to getting onto a small boat, the process can be disconcerting. Stepping off of solid ground onto a floating something-or-other can be difficult; every move you make causes the surface beneath your feet to shift as well, creating instability. If you aren’t careful, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your footing, falling out of the boat and into the water. And unless you intended to go for a swim, that’s probably not a good thing. 

That’s not a big deal — you get wet, sure, and you may end up destroying your phone in the process. But we know that worse things can happen in that situation. For example, if you try to grab onto the wrong part of the boat as you fall hopelessly into the water, you’re still going to get wet — and you may capsize the boat in the process. Because we’re generally responsible people — and because few of us are coordinated enough to make a grab like that — this rarely happens.

Oh, and also because we’re not walruses.

But don’t worry. We have a solution for that, too.

Walruses typically live in the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding seas, as seen in this map. What you won’t see on that map is Ireland; Ireland is far south of the typical walrus habitat, so if you see on there, you’re probably at an aquarium. But as the BBC reported in March of 2021, there was an exception — a young Arctic walrus made its way to the Irish coast, one of the first in decades. Most likely, it was looking for a place to hunt for food or breed, but even it just got lost on its way to Albuquerque, it captured the attention of the locals simply because it was there. It’s not every day you see a walrus near Ireland. 

Before long, though, residents of the area probably wished he hadn’t bothered visiting, though. Walruses are great swimmers, yes, but they can’t breathe underwater. (They can submerge for about ten minutes at a time, which is pretty impressive, but alas, they need to come up every so often.) And if you’re a walrus swimming around Ireland, you’re going to find it pretty easy to find a place to rest: you just climb into a boat. Here’s a video of the walrus, lazily nicknamed Wally, doing just that. It was an arduous ascent, but a successful one, especially from the boat’s perspective. This wasn’t the first time Wally went onto a floating boat, and in a few previous situations, the vessel was not so lucky. Here are a pair of pictures to demonstrate the point, via another BBC report¬†titled “Isles of Scilly: Walrus Wally no longer welcome,” and you’ll immediately see why he’s walrus non grata.

On the left: Wally failing to get into the boat properly. On the right: the boat failing to stay afloat as a result.

This wasn’t the only time Wally unintentionally (we think!) capsized a boat; per the above-linked latter BBC article, he had sunk or damaged “several” such ships. (Here’s another report of a boat falling to Wally’s efforts.) Authorities asked boaters to “discourage him from getting on board” and to “take steps to physically prevent access” to such vessels as a result. But asking everyday people to intervene probably wasn’t a good idea — Wally weighs north of one ton and, being a walrus, isn’t someone you can readily reason with. Getting too close to him can be dangerous. Another solution was in order.

That solution? A couch. 

Here’s a picture, via the Irish Examiner:¬†

Okay, it’s really just a bunch of pontoons, but it looks like a couch, right? And that’s basically how Wally used it, provided those in charge could get it there in time. Per the Irish Examiner, the idea was simple: if a seafarer or someone on shore notices Wally swimming around, they call the authorities, who come to the location with the couch and put it in the waters nearby. One of the victims of Wally’s submerging spree graciously provided the authorities with some towels he recovered from his wreck; marine biologists figured that Wally would recognize his own scent from the towels and realize that the pontoons were a safe place for him to take a snooze or whatever. And as seen above, it worked, somewhat. Wally still tried to make his way onto whatever vessel he could find, but often enough, that vessel was the floating sofa specifically designed with Wally in mind.

It’s likely, though, that the couch will no longer be needed. In mid-August, Wally stopped appearing in the Irish waters, to the chagrin of some (but relief, certainly, of some others). He’s fine, though, no need to worry: just yesterday, he re-appeared — off the coast of Iceland. It’s a tale as old as time: having spent a few too many nights sleeping on some stranger’s couch, Wally is making his way home.

Bonus fact: No, Wally wasn’t really on his way to Albuquerque; he’s a walrus, not a cartoon rabbit. But while we’re unnecessarily on the topic of Albuquerque, let’s talk about its missing R. Albuquerque, the New Mexico city, is named after a duke from Alburquerque, a city in Spain. The former lacks the letter “R” between the “Albu” and the rest of the word; the latter has an “R.” The reason for the dropped “R” is, by and large, a mystery. Most likely, visitors to the town before its incorporation in 1891 didn’t pronounce the R, and given how many letters are in the word, it’s not hard to imagine that they simply omitted the silent-to-them one. But we don’t really know. All we’re sure of: when a railway came to the area in 1880, whoever painted the sign for the station stop did so without the now-missing R, and no one important enough thought that it needed correcting. 

From the Archives: The Story Behind John Lennon’s Walrus: This doesn’t go into the “Paul McCartney is dead” fan theories, but those are fun too.