Submarines: Let Sleeping Bears Be, Shoot The Rest

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January 7, 2021: In late 2020 a Russian nuclear submarine had a bear problem. A brown bear and her cub swam up to the sub, which was docked at the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula naval base on the Pacific coast. Fearing the bears might stay awhile, the sub commander called for a bear hunter who arrived with a shotgun that could kill the bear and not harm the hull as a high-velocity rifle bullet would. First the cub was shot and fell off the sub. The mother, who looked ill and emaciated, did not follow and was shot dead as well.

What was interesting about this incident was that it was not unusual. There are over 10,000 brown bears in Kamchatka and not many people outside the naval base. Hunters are called out to kill bears who wander into or near the base or any other settlement and during 2020 at least fifty of them were killed. The bears are largely vegetarian but will kill and consume humans if they feel threatened, or very hungry.

The Russians are not the only ones with bear problems. In early 2003, in an area of polar ice between Alaska and the North Pole, the U.S. nuclear submarine Connecticut (SSN 22) surfaced. 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 360 kg (700-800 pound) polar bear was seen approaching the sub. For about 40 minutes, the bear loitered around the sub’s 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 (bears' favorite food) might use it as an air hole. The bear finally left when he heard the noise of an approaching helicopter.

Whenever there is combat in bear country, there is the risk of bears getting involved. Such an incident occurred in late 2009, in Indian Kashmir, when an Islamic terrorist leader, and one of his followers was killed by a black bear. Two other terrorists were wounded, but were able to flee to a nearby village. Although the terrorists were armed with assault rifles, the bear attacked quickly, and at night, and the men were unable to use their weapons in the restricted confines of the cave that seemed like a good spot to hide and sleep. Apparently, the bear was going to use the cave to hibernate in, and was upset to find that the terrorists were trying to move in. The four terrorists thought the cave was abandoned, and were not particularly careful at making sure.

The Asiatic Black Bear is related to the American black bear, but is larger, as in up to 180 kg (400 pounds) for an older male, and is much more aggressive towards humans. The Asiatic bear has a more powerful jaw, and bigger claws. The smaller American black bear usually flees humans, although they have been known to attack and kill small children. In the Americas, and parts of Eurasia, the larger (half a ton) brown bear, especially the American Grizzly, is the most dangerous bear for humans. American brown bears are more aggressive towards humans than the Eurasian cousins. It is the black bear you have to be wary of in Eurasia.

All black bears can climb trees, which makes it more difficult for fleeing humans. If travelling in woods that contain bears, the safest thing to do is take along someone you can outrun. The European black bears are vegetarians, unless very hungry, in which case they will eat meat, and are big pests to farmers located near forests where black bears prefer to live. The black bear, of several types, is native all of Eurasia, from Europe to Japan.

The black bear population in Kashmir has become more of a problem over the previous twenty years because the Indian police disarmed the rural Moslem population. Police are now called in to kill bears that become a nuisance. In the past, the rural folk would often hunt the Black Bears, because some of their body parts are very valuable to folk medicine practitioners, especially in China. Those parts could be worth $2,000 or more. The pelts are very warm, and Kashmir gets very cold in the Winter. It is believed that other Islamic terrorists have come to grief after encounters with black bears in the large forested areas that make up so much of Kashmir. But in these other cases, there were no survivors, and the bodies were never found. Several small groups of Islamic terrorists have simply disappeared in the hills, and the local black bears are the top quadruped predators in these areas.

 


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