Whales are known to be very playful and fun-loving creatures. And, according to the research led by Audun Rikardsen, a marine biologist, he identifies these marine mammals to be highly sociable. One good example is a friendly beluga whale in Norway, which unexpectedly gained a lot of attention and love from a growing fanbase. It reportedly charmed locals and enthralled fishers — as the whale behaves like a confident celebrity around them.
The marine mammal is named Hvaldimir, which originates from a poll made by Norway’s national public broadcaster or NRK. Its name is a combination of the Russian president’s name, “Vladimir Putin,” and the Norwegian word for whale “hval.”
Based on the personal statements of some Norwegian fishermen, they first encountered Hvaldimir when it was swimming near the boats of Inga’s fishing village, also known as the Kola Peninsula for Russian Military bases. A harness was tightly attached to the body of the mammal. Out of curiosity, they tried to remove the whale’s strap while aboard the boats, but they failed. Then one brave fisherman named Joar Hesten, jumped into the chilling arctic waters to remove the tight equipment harness.
Several hours after removing the harness, these local fishermen noticed a label that states, “Equipment of St Petersburg” with a mount for a camera or a weapon. The marine authorities examined the harness and speculated that the beluga whale is a runaway spy, given its unusual friendly behavior and the location where it was first encountered.
To support this claim, NRK interviewed Audun Rikardsen, freshwater and marine biology professor at the University of Tromso. Rikardsen said that “The Russian” navy is known to possess and train domestic whales for undercover work.
The idea of spy whales originated during the 1980s — when Russia created a military training program for dolphins — which are known for their sharp vision and good memory. These mammals make active soldiers for finding underwater weapons. The operation was closed sometime in the 1980s. But a station owned by the Russian Defense Ministry, Zvezda reported last 2017 that the Russian navy restarted the military training in polar waters with beluga whales, seals, and bottlenose dolphins.
This research and training made by the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute aim to see if the beluga whales can be taught to patrol the entrances of the naval bases, help divers, and when needed, kill an intruder. At the same time, dolphins and seals are trained to carry tools for divers, find torpedoes, mines, and weapons which have sunk underwater. Then for the past three years, President Putin reopened three former Soviet Military bases within the Arctic coast, and in 2016, the Defense Ministry bought five bottle-nosed dolphins from Moscow’s Utrish Dolphinarium.
Today, it is still uncertain whether the beluga whale is a former Russian scout or just a friendly animal. But some people defended Hvaldimir saying that he was too adorable to be a spy; appearing in the docks to get its nose petted. He also recovers plastic rings thrown in the sea. Last month, the adorable beluga brought back an iPhone that slipped into the ocean from Ina Mansika, one of the enthusiastic fans who wanted to get a closer look at Hvaldimir. In an interview with The Dodo, she thought that the phone would be gone forever until the mammal disappeared for a few minutes and came back with her phone in its mouth.
Also, another account which claims that the whale is not a spy comes from a former Norwegian reporter, Morten Vikeby, who fought officials saying he recognized the whale from a story they previously made. Hvaldimir was wearing a harness to drag boats with children on board; this is also the main reason why the whale is very social.
It remains a mystery whether the beluga whale is a Russian spy or a child therapist. But one thing is for sure; humans may have taken away these intelligent marine mammals for personal interest.
Currently, the Norwegian officials hoped that Hvaldimir would be rehabilitated back to the wild — with the help of an animal conservation organization. The adorable whale is so tamed and used to having humans feed him all the time, and that’s the reason why it usually swims near the fisherman, said Rikardsen.
He furthermore stated that it is a question whether the beluga can survive and find food in the wild by itself, but there are successful cases of some whales from Russian camps that were able to adapt back to its natural habitat.
Rikardsen added that it would not be easy for Hvaldimir to return to its home. The whale will keep on depending on humans until it figures out how to find food on its own and eventually discover a group of whales to help him survive the marine life.