Beluga whale with Russian harness raises alarm in Norway

Russia has no history of using whales for military purposes but had a training program for dolphins

Norwegian fisherman observes a beluga whale swimming below his boat before the Norwegian fishermen were able to removed the tight harness, off the northern Norwegian coast Friday, April 26, 2019. The harness strap which features a mount for an action camera, says “Equipment St. Petersburg” which has prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility. (Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Direcorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP)

A beluga whale found with a tight harness that appeared to be Russian made has raised the alarm of Norwegian officials and prompted speculation that the animal may have come from a Russian military facility.

Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries says “Equipment St. Petersburg” is written on the harness strap, which features a mount for an action camera.

He said Monday fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around. On Friday, fisherman Joar Hesten, aided by the Ree Wiig, jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.

Ree Wiig said “people in Norway’s military have shown great interest” in the harness.

READ MORE: Humpback whale safety campaign launched as population booms on B.C. coast

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, believes “it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk” is involved. Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the mammal was being trained for, or whether it was supposed to be part of any Russian military activity in the region.

Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and said they have not reported any program or experiments using beluga whales.

“This is a tame animal that is used to get food served so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen,” he said. “The question is now whether it can survive by finding food by itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity doing fine.”

Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself again his boat when he first spotted it.

Russia does not have a history of using whales for military purposes but the Soviet Union had a full-fledged training program for dolphins.

The Soviet Union used a base in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula during the Cold War to train the mammals for military purposes such as searching for mines or other objects and planting explosives. The facility in Crimea was closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, though unnamed reports shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea indicated that it had reopened.

The Russian Defence Ministry published a public tender in 2016 to purchase five dolphins for a training program. The tender did not explain what tasks the dolphins were supposed to perform, but indicated they were supposed to have good teeth. It was taken offline shortly after publication.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Developers go back to drawing board after high-rise application deferred by Parksville council

IAG Developments has proposed a multi-building development on city’s waterfront

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: People experiencing homelessness unlucky

Poverty, illness and marginalization don’t equate to decrepitude, says letter writer

Nanaimo Timbermen in five-way tie for first place

Senior A lacrosse team has a home game Saturday, July 20

Nanaimo Ladysmith education support workers reach tentative three-year deal

Union membership to vote on collective agreement on July 31

Advocates for now-closed Nanaimo soup kitchen ask for city’s help

Wisteria Community Association’s Stone Soup shut down following eviction of owners this week

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Nanaimo mom says she will go to court to try to get allegedly abducted daughter back

Tasha Brown says her estranged wife abducted their daughter Kaydance Etchells in 2016

Thunderstorms forecast across B.C.

Environment Canada has issued a thunderstorm watch for B.C.’s central Interior

Driver who killed B.C. motorcyclist receives absolute discharge

Chase family speechless following decision by BC Review Board

Lower gas prices slow annual inflation rate to Bank of Canada’s 2% bull’s-eye

Prices showed strength in other areas — led by a 17.3 per cent increase in the cost of fresh vegetables

B.C. moves to preserve 54 of its biggest, oldest trees

Fir, cedar, spruce, pine, yew set aside from logging

Dormant Chemainus Foods building to be revived with new market

Initiative expected to bring new life to the community’s downtown core

Local artist explores Nanaimo’s old Chinatown in new video installation

Charlotte Zhang among eight artists in Nanaimo Art Gallery’s ‘Estuary’ exhibition starting this week

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Most Read