For the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Kimball, life at sea had become monotonous.
On patrol in the western Pacific Ocean looking for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, crew members hadn’t been off the ship in weeks. After finishing their operations for the day on Aug. 26, they finally had the opportunity for some down time, which meant swimming and unwinding with a giant inflatable unicorn in the open ocean.
Then a call came over the Kimball’s radio: “Shark!”
A 6- to 8-foot shark, which the Coast Guard suspects was a Longfin mako or Pelagic thresher, was swimming toward a group of 30 to 40 crew members about 30 feet away from the boat.
Per protocol, Maritime Enforcement Specialist 1st Class Samuel Cintron was on duty as the armed shark watch during the swim call, and he opened fire into the water to direct the shark away from his shipmates.
“The shark would wave off with each burst but kept coming back toward our shipmates,” a now widely shared post on the Kimball’s Facebook page says. The crew scattered. Some scrambled up a rope ladder at the rear of the ship and others climbed aboard a smaller boat that had been looking after the swimmers.
“All hands are safe and accounted for. We even saved the inflatable unicorn!” the Kimball’s Facebook post says.
Not only is the unicorn safe, it’s found a new home — perched atop a glass case in the Coast Guard Museum at the Coast Guard Academy in New London.
For museum curator Jennifer Gaudio, the unicorn, which has been signed by the crew, is a visual representation of something military museums often don’t do a good job of showing: the human side of military service.
“They get bogged down with duty and honor, as they should, but I think the sacrifice becomes more meaningful if you show that they’re just people,” Gaudio said.
The unicorn joins two other artifacts that Gaudio views as unofficial mascots of the Coast Guard: a stuffed rabbit from World War II that a Coast Guard chief intended to give his children but ended up as his ship’s mascot, and Capt. Cluck, a tin rooster that became the mascot of the Coast Guard’s aviation branch.
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