There are plenty of animals you might expect to run into while cruising the ocean waters 14 kilometres (eight miles) from the nearest shore ... but an elephant?! For the naval team that came across exactly such an animal on Wednesday, it was quite an experience. 

The first ship to spot the elephant was on patrol off the northern coast of Sri Lanka. The crew glimpsed the animal treading water and holding its trunk up in the air like a snorkel. After calling in two more boats for backup, several of them hopped into the water with the massive mammal to begin bringing it back to dry land.

The rescue operation took 12 hours in total, according to naval spokesperson Chaminda Walakuluge, but they were able to loop a rope around the elephant and escort it back to shallow waters. 

Believe it or not, finding an elephant frolicking in the sea is not all that unusual. Like most mammals, they're quite capable swimmers, easily crossing rivers and shallow ocean when they need to. In fact, the famous swimming elephants of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelagos in the Bay of Bengal became well known for their habits of taking oceanic voyages between islands. (One of these elephants even got its share of fame in The Fall.)

But the Sri Lankan elephant's marine excursion was probably an accident. Walakuluge suspects it may have been swept out to sea while crossing a nearby lagoon. Elephants may be powerful animals on land, but they're no match for a strong ocean current.

Happily, this story ended well, thanks no doubt to the elephant's natural aquatic prowess and some quick-thinking assistance from its human helpers.

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