Rumoured Russian ‘spy whale’ re-emerges near Sweden

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A beluga whale that became famous in 2019 after it was suspected of being trained by the Russian military re-emerged off Sweden’s southwestern coast on Sunday, leading an organisation tracking him to work with authorities to ensure the whale is safe.
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A beluga whale like the one shown was found near Norway’s northern Finnmark region in 2019 wearing a harness with a mount for a GoPro attached to him that read “Equipment St. Petersburg,” leading to unconfirmed speculation the whale was a Russian-trained underwater spy. The whale was most recently spotted near Sweden in late May. (Photo by Barry Williams/Getty Images)

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Key Takeaways
  • “Hvaldimir”—a nickname combining the Norwegian word for whale with Vladimir—was first seen in 2019 near Norway’s northern Finnmark region wearing a harness with a mount for a GoPro attached to him that read “Equipment St. Petersburg,” leading to unconfirmed speculation the whale was a Russian-trained underwater spy.
  • The whale has spent more than three years making its way down the Norwegian coastline, but the Sunday sighting so far down the coast led some biologists to question why Hvaldimir is moving “very quickly away from his natural environment,” according to Agence France-Presse.
  • Hvaldimir is believed to be around 13 years old, which is an age where beluga whales have high hormones, leading one biologist to suggest the whale may be moving quickly while looking for a mate.
  • OneWhale, an organization tracking the beluga, said in a press release that it is working with the Swedish authorities and there are plans “underway to move the whale far north to arctic waters” where it will be closer to other belugas.
Tangent

The beluga was also spotted earlier last week near Oslo, leading the ​​Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen to ask people to stay away from the whale to prevent it from being injured or killed, though “so far there have only been minor incidents where the whale has suffered minor injuries, primarily from contact with boats.”

Key Background

When Hvaldimir was first seen in 2019, his discovery made worldwide headlines as people worried he was trained to spy by Russia’s military. A Norwegian biologist told CNN that the Russian navy has “been known to train belugas to conduct military operations before … like guarding naval bases, helping divers, finding lost equipment.” Since the whale’s discovery, Russia has not issued an official reaction to speculation he could be a “Russian spy.”

Hvaldimir was removed from his harness after he was found, and OneWhale has said it believes “he was part of a Russian marine mammal military program for several years” and has been living alone the last four years, despite belugas being “high social whales.”

There is speculation OneWhale President Rich German says, “Hvaldimir’s situation remains an extremely vulnerable one as Sweden is a highly populated country, but we are very grateful Swedish authorities have quickly taken action to care for the whale.”

What To Watch For

OneWhale President Rich German said “Hvaldimir’s situation remains an extremely vulnerable” as Sweden is a populated country with lots of dangers to whales. The group is making plans to create a 500-acre marine reserve where the whale could live until “an attempt can be made to release him back into a wild beluga population.”

This story was first published on forbes.com.


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