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Atlantic: The Disturbing Walrus Scene in Our Planet

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The Disturbing Walrus Scene in Our Planet

 

In the autumn of 2017, about 250 walruses in Russia, having climbed up to rocky slopes overlooking a beach, just walked over the edge.

 

Usually, gravity is no enemy of the walrus. When these animals encounter hard surfaces, they rise up to meet them, hauling their two-ton bulks onto floating pieces of ice. When they fall, they flop off those low platforms into the accommodating water. So you might imagine that a walrus, peering off a tall cliff, doesn’t really understand what will happen to it when it steps off. It doesn’t expect to plummet for 260 feet, cartwheel through the air, bounce off the rocks, and crash abruptly. Climb, plummet, cartwheel, bounce: These are not walrus-associated verbs.

 

Nor is landing. The biologist J. B. S. Haldane once wrote a famous essay in which he described what large falls do to progressively larger animals. A mouse “gets a slight shock and walks away,” he wrote. “A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.” And a walrus? “Many just die on impact, or they crush the ones they fall on below. Some have internal injuries, get to the sea, and wash up later,” says Sophie Lanfear, who led a documentary crew that recorded the behavior for Our Planet—Netflix’s big-budget answer to Planet Earth. The team had heard hints about such falls, but were still unprepared for the shock of seeing them. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever filmed,” says Jamie McPherson, a cameraman, on a behind-the-scenes video.

 

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