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The sight of two powerful bull moose locking horns in combat is something that metaphorically can become frozen in time for those lucky enough to experience such an event, but for a pair of Alaskan hikers, they were lucky enough to see such a battle literally frozen in time.
As National Geographic explained on Friday, Brad Webster, a science and social studies teacher working at a Bible camp near the city of Unalakleet, was hiking along the Bering Sea earlier this month when he found the duo entombed together in a layer of ice thick enough to walk on.
The two were apparently having it out either over territory or a potential mate when their antlers become locked together and they fell into the water, which would have quickly become frozen as temperatures fell. Powerless to escape, the moose froze to death, their conflict unresolved.
The 33-year-old Webster, who was hiking along with a friend at the time, told the Washington Post that they were “both kind of in awe. I’ve heard of other animals this had happened to, but I’ve never seen anything like this.” They showed it to another friend, 57-year-old Jeff Erickson, posted photos of the phenomenon to social media, where they quickly went viral.
So what exactly happened to these ill-fated combatants?
In an email to the Post, Kris Hundertmark, chair of the biology and wildlife department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, explained that male moose often lock antlers and push against each other while competing over females during their annual fall breeding season.
The antlers of adult moose tend to be extremely strong, but also have “complex” shapes which can become so entangled that it becomes difficult for the combatants to separate. In this case, he said, the moose likely fell into the water while locked in combat and drowned – which, he noted, is “quicker… than by getting locked together in some forest and slowly starving to death.”
The entangled moose ended up being frozen under eight inches worth of ice, according to Nat Geo, but have since been freed. The plan, Erickson said, “is to remove [their heads] intact for a very unique head mount,” adding that finding them was “[a] once in a lifetime experience.”
The Post noted that it took several hours of work using both a chainsaw and an ice pick to get through the thick layer of ice, which was located underneath about two feet of water. Webster, Erickson and their friends plan to leave the carcasses for the residents of Unalakleet, who will likely use the moose meet to feed their sled dog teams, according to the newspaper.
Based on an examination of the two moose heads, the hikers said that it appears as though one moose might have actually pierced the other’s skull, wounding and possibly killing it before the pair would have fallen into the water. “It’s kind of like you won the battle but you lose the war,” Webster quipped, “because you’ve got a whole other moose attached to your head right now.”
This Nov. 12, 2016 photo, provided by Jeff Erickson shows two moose frozen mid-fight and encased in ice near the remote village of Unalakleet, Alaska, on the state’s western coast. Two moose were recently discovered. The unusual discovery was made Nov. 2, by a Unalakleet teacher showing a friend around a slough at a bible camp where the teacher is a volunteer camp steward. (Jeff Erickson via AP)
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