submarine Connecticut (SSN 22) poked its sail and rudder through the ice. Thesub surfaced in an area of polar ice between Alaska and the North Pole Subs in the arctic have long ago learned to look out for polar bears, especially if some of the crew are allowed out on the ice. In this case, a large (700-800) pound polar bear was seen approaching the sub. For about 40 minutes, the bear loitered around the subs rear rudder. It took a bite out of the rudder and, finding it inedible, stayed around the area of broken ice around the rudder for a while, apparently thinking a seal (the bears favorite food) might use it as an air hole. The bear finally left when he heard the noise of an approaching helicopter. When
an officer first looked around outside via the periscope, he noted that his sub
was being stalked by a hostile polar bear. The periscope cam was turned on, and
these photos of a polar bear chewing on the subs rear rudder resulted. The
damage was said to be minor. The SSN 22 is a Seawolf class boat, one of the
navy's newest submarines. It wasn't designed as a polar bear snack, but that's
how life is sometimes.
There are over 20,000 polar bears living in Arctic waters (although some live
in Hudson's bay and down the Pacific coast of Alaska.) The bears normally live on
pack ice or ice flows and prey on seals. Some come ashore during July and
August, when offshore ice melts. There they live off their fat, or dead sea life
that washes ashore. Some have been seen as far north as the North Pole, but
there's little food for them up there.
American submarines have been operating under the Arctic ice for over half a
century. In August, 1958, the American nuclear submarine USS Nautilus, passed under the ice at the North Pole for the first time. In the Summer of 1962, two U.S. nuclear subs surfaced at the north pole. All of this arctic activity was to prove that nuclear subs could operate up there, and that ballistic missile subs could launch their missiles there as well. American,
and Russian, subs have been operating up there ever since. They have also used their sonar to measure the ice thickness and report that the ice has lost 40 percent of its thickness in the last 20 years. This has caused problems for the polar bears, who feed on seals that
surface near offshore ice flows or through breathing holes in pack ice. Some
bears are forced to come ashore earlier because of the longer warm season. This
is caused by a combination of global warming and the normal fluctuation of
Arctic ice thickness.
Submariners have seen polar bears in the past, but this is one of the few
times that the bear saw the sub first, and apparently mistook it for the world's
largest chunk of bear food.