Published: Wed, May 01, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Harness-wearing whale was ‘trained by Russian military,’ researchers say

Harness-wearing whale was ‘trained by Russian military,’ researchers say

The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said "Equipment St Petersburg" was written on the harness strap, which featured a mount for an action camera.

Jorgen Ree Wiig, a marine biologist at the directorate, told CNN: "The whale seemed playful but our instincts said that it was also asking for help to get out of the harness". Fishermen became suspicious when they saw that the animal was wearing a black harness and appeared to repeatedly seek out their boats.

This led experts in the Scandinavian country to the only logical conclusion: The whale is a Russian spy.

Russia's military has a history of trying to weaponize whales and other sea mammals. While that in itself might be interesting, the beluga in question was outfitted with a harness.

"It always searches for boats and people, and then it comes all the way to the boat and tries to rub the straps off", Hesten said. He said he had contacted Russian researchers who said the harnessed whale had nothing to do with them. The beluga whale was first sighted last week in waters off Finnmark - Norway's most northerly county which borders Russian Federation.

Norway's Aftenposten newspaper have previously reported that the Russian military is believed to have trained sea mammals.

The US Navy Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego, uses the sea creatures for locating mines and other unsafe objects on the ocean floor. Speaking to the Norwegian broadcaster, he said, "We know that in Russian Federation they have had domestic whales in captivity and that some of these have apparently been released".

In 1980s Soviet Russia, a programme saw dolphins recruited for military training, their razor-sharp vision, stealth and good memory making them them effective underwater tools for detecting weapons.

The Russian navy has previously used trained dolphins for surveillance and other aquatic activities. 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. In 2016, Russia's Ministry of Defense bought five bottlenose dolphins for $26,000.

This has prompted speculation the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility.

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