A shark has wreaked havoc on the US Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines

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There are a number of reasons why submarines have been taken out of service while roaming the depths of the ocean. These include hitting sea mines, being shot at with torpedoes, having accidents – some have even been scuttled. There’s one reason, though, that we never thought we could cause enough damage to force a submarine back into port: a cat-sized shark.

This is exactly what was happening to the US Navy’s nuclear fleet – in particular, its Ohioclass submarines – during the Cold War.

The nuclear-powered USS Ohio (SSGN-726), the first ship of her class. (Photo credit: PH3 SHAWN HANDLEY, USN / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain)

the Ohio-the class consists of four guided missile submarines (SSGN) – the USS Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Georgia – and 14 ballistic missile submarines (SNLE) – the USS Henry M. Jackson, Alabama, Alaska, Nevada, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Maryland, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Wyoming and Maine.

The class includes the largest submarines ever built for the Navy and are among the largest in the world, behind only the Russian Navy. Typhoon-class and Borei-classroom. However, the Ohio-class, carries more armaments, each equipped with 24 Trident II missiles, compared to only 16 aboard the Borei-class and 20 on the Typhoon-classroom.

USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) at sea
The ASU Pennsylvania (SSBN-735), one of the US Navy’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines Ohio-classroom. (Photo credit: L Smith/Classicstock/Getty Images)

Submarines were among the most advanced weapon technologies of the Cold War. As they navigated underwater, officials began noticing sporadic problems. These included leaking oil lines, missing pieces of electrical wiring, damaged sonar domes, and sonic sounders that suddenly stopped working.

Often the damage was severe enough that ships had to return to their bases for repairs.

While the Navy initially suspected the damage was the result of a new Soviet weapon, it was actually caused by something much more unexpected: the cookie cutter shark.

cookie cutter shark on the beach
Cookie cutter shark. (Photo credit: PIRO / NOAA Observing Program / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

For those who have never seen a cookie cutter shark, here is a quick overview. Also known as the cigar shark, the species grows to between 16 and 20 inches in length and is found in waters around the world. Its name derives from the holes it leaves in its (often much larger) prey when feeding, which resemble the marks made by a cookie cutter.

Cookie cutter shark bites have been found on a wide variety of marine life and have even been noted on man-made structures, such as oil rigs, as they attack any exposed soft area. The Navy eventually realized that the shark was causing the damage to its nuclear submarines and decided the best way to counter it was to place a fiberglass dome around the ships’ most sensitive parts.


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