Published: Tue, April 30, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Experts say beluga whale found in Norway may be Russian spy

Experts say beluga whale found in Norway may be Russian spy

The sighting of a beluga whale wearing a Russian-made harness has caused media speculation that the animal may have come from a Russian military facility.

Jørgen Ree Wiig, who works with the agency, shared pictures and video footage of the whale and the mysterious harness, which had a logo that read "Equipment of St. Petersburg".

He said fishermen reported the tame white Beluga strapped into a tight harness swimming around last week.

According to Britain's The Guardian newspaper, Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported the unusual behavior by the whale last week, and showed video of the beluga whale swimming alongside a fishing vessel and repeatedly nudging it.

There was reportedly no other evidence from the harness that connected it to Russia's military, however, Norwegian scientists are suspecting that the sea mammal device could be connected to the nation's navy.

Russian Federation previously acknowledged that it trains some sea mammals for special operations in the Arctic, where the nation has a large military base that's near the territory of Norway, a key North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member, CBS News reported.

A fisheries service employee in a wetsuit was finally able to remove the harness in the water once he arrived at the boat.

Fisherman, Joar Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale seemed used to human contact. "We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity doing fine", he said.

Martin Biuw, a marine mammal researcher at Norway's Institute of Marine Research, agreed with Wiig, telling CNN: "The fact that it's a trained animal is undoubtable". "Then they often seek out boats".

Experts said the animal's odd behaviour around the boats, along with its harness, have given them cause to believe it must have been trained by the Russian navy.

He said there have been no reports of programs or experiments involving beluga whales.

The US Navy Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego, uses bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for locating mines and other risky objects on the ocean floor. 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. Government public records records show that the defence ministry purchased five bottle-nosed dolphins, aged between three and five, from Moscow's Utrish Dolphinarium in 2016 at a cost of £18,000.

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