In 1967, the Submarine ALVIN Was Attacked by a Swordfish

They decided that the best thing to do was “surface the submarine and remove the swordfish.”

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

If you watched the NOAA Oceanus live-stream the other day (like we told you you should), you might have seen a swordfish slice by the rover. In the chatter afterwards, the researchers narrating the dive reminisced about the time that a swordfish got stuck in another submarine. That’s right, a swordfish got stuck in the side of a submarine.

According to NOAA, at about 2:30 pm on July 6, 1967, the sub ALVIN reached the bottom of the ocean—about 2,000 feet down—off the coast of Florida. It drove towards a large, deep-sea coral specimen to examine, when the men inside of it heard a strange scraping noise. Here, Edward F. K. Zarudzki, one of those men, recalls what happened next:

Thinking that the noise had been caused by the submarine drifting and scraping over the sea floor, I looked down and saw that we were stationery and on the bottom. Simultaneously with the noise, the co-pilot who was watching out through the starboard porthole, recoiled from it exclaiming: “We have been hit by a fish!” Indeed, outside the starboard porthole I saw a large fish, apparently captive, violently trying to disengage itself and in the process tearing some of the skin and flesh of its back. A small amount of blood was flowing out of these tears.

Once they realized that the swordfish was, in fact, stuck in their submarine, there was a series of conference calls and tests to see whether the fish had damaged any critical equipment on the sub. They were, after all, 2,000 feet under the ocean with two men inside. They decided that the best thing to do was “surface the submarine and remove the swordfish before proceeding again with the dive.”

When they got to the surface, they were better able to figure out exactly what was going on. The swordfish was eight feet long, about 196 pounds. The fish had, apparently been lying on the bottom of the ocean and been startled by ALVIN:

It turned immediately onto ALVIN and attacked without hesitation, aiming its sword just below the starboard porthole. The inclined surface of the fiberglass hull deflected the sword towards the joint in the hull and the sword thus became wedged at its base.

At the surface it took two hours to remove the fish, who didn’t survive the ordeal but did feed the entire crew the next day.

Yesterday’s swordfish encounter was far less dramatic—just a drive-by, really. Perhaps, like dolphins, swordfish never forget being wronged.

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