Fishermen off Norway’s northern coast encountered a beluga whale last week wearing a harness with camera mounts, and experts believe the mammal was likely trained by the Russian military.
Fishermen near the small Norwegian fishing village of Inga reported the beluga harassed their boats.
“We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats,” fisherman Joar Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it.”
From Russia, with love?
While friendly and cute, this beluga whale may have secrets.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) April 30, 2019
The strange behavior of the whale, which was actively seeking out vessels and trying to pull straps and ropes from the side of boats, “raised suspicions among marine experts that the animal had been given military-grade training by neighboring Russia,” according to The Guardian.
The fishermen eventually were able to remove the harness, finding the words “Equipment of St. Petersburg” on it.
*CNN’s story on the #whale news, including a photo of the harness clip “Equipment of St. Petersburg”*
Whale found by Norwegian fishermen could be trained by Russian military https://t.co/EgQQqGCBlH pic.twitter.com/Q6JKpHvAzN
— Nordic News (@Nordic_News) April 29, 2019
Jorgen Ree Wiig — a marine biologist at Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries — told CNN the mounts on the harness were for GoPro cameras.
After the fishermen took off its harness, the whale continued to want to engage and play with them.
Martin Biuw, a marine mammal researcher at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research said, “The fact that it’s a trained animal is undoubtable.”
Biuw added: “It’s quite clear that the whale is searching out the boat, and that it’s used to being around boats. The whale is coming up with its head above the water, opening its mouth, which suggests that it’s expecting to be fed fish as a reward.”
Wiig thinks the whale came from Murmansk, Russia, about 120 miles east of the Norwegian border, and was trained by the Russian navy, CNN reported.
The Russian Northern Fleet is headquartered in the vicinity of Murmansk, according to GlobalSecurity.org.
The navy has “been known to train belugas to conduct military operations before,” Wiig said, “like guarding naval bases, helping divers, finding lost equipment.”
Norwegian whale scientist Audun Rikardsen agreed with Wiig’s assessment that the whale likely came from Murmansk.
“There is a lot of secrecy around these military projects, but a Russian researcher I have spoken to says she knows that the Russian defense has such whales in captivity for military training,” Rikardsen told the Aftenposten newspaper, according to USA Today.
“It is most likely that the Russian Navy in Murmansk is involved,” he said.
Is this beluga whale actually a Russian spy? https://t.co/GC8hYIuH7J
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) April 29, 2019
“Retired Colonel Viktor Baranets, who observed military dolphin training in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, said the sea mammals were part of the broader Cold War arms race between the USSR and the United States,” USA Today reported.
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