Survival Update

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Is This Whale a Russian Spy?

It may sound like a whale of a tale, or just another fish story, but a Norwegian Fisherman recently came across a Beluga whale that prompted some to speculate that the wayward cetacean may be spying for the Russian Military!

While fishing off the coast of Ingoya — a small Norwegian village — last week, Joar Hesten told a local television station that a large white beluga whale swam up to his crew’s boat, wearing a harness around its body.

The whale had been following the boat for some time, tugging on loose straps hanging from the ship.

“It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it,” Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the New York Post reported.

According to The Post, there was a GoPro camera mount attached to the whale’s harness, with a label, tracking it to St. Petersburg, Russia. The accessory — and the fact that the fish was tugging at straps and ropes on their vessel — lead marine experts in Norway to believe the Russian navy could be training whales as an underwater surveillance team.

Not The Kind of Gear Used in Research

The harness was later removed by one of the fishermen and shown to a Russian scientist, who explained it was not equipment any scientist would use, which renewed belief that the whale was a Russian asset!

“If this whale comes from Russia – and there is great reason to believe it – then it is not Russian scientists, but rather the navy that has done this,” said Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway.

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway, said he thinks “it is most likely that the Russian navy in Murmansk” is involved. “We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and also that some of these have apparently been released,” he said. “Then they often seek out boats.”

Rikardsen went on to tell the BBC that the harness “was attached really tight around its head, in front of its pectoral find and it had clips.”

There was no camera or anything else attached to the mount, which looked as if it could hold a camera, or a weapon.

“A Russian colleague said they don’t do such experiments, but she knows the navy has caught belugas for some years and trained them — most likely it’s related to that,” Rikardsen explained to BBC.

The Russian navy has since denied that the whale was being used to spy on anyone, explaining in a statement to a Russian broadcaster, “We have military dolphins for combat roles, we don’t cover that up,” BBC reported.

“If we were using this animal for spying do you really think we’d attach a mobile number with the message ‘please call this number?’”

The use of marine animals for military purposes isn’t new.

Since 1959, the U.S. Navy has trained bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions “to detect, locate, mark and recover objects in harbors, coastal areas, and at depth in the open sea” under the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.