Norwegian fishermen discovered a friendly Beluga whale in the Barents Sea on April 25th that kept approaching the fishing vessels and rubbing itself against them in an effort to rid itself of something that was constricting its neck area.
While it’s not unusual for the fishermen to see Beluga whales in the area, as they are native, it was strange to see one of them wearing a harness or sorts. The fishermen didn’t manage to remove the harness themselves at first but sent photos of the whale to Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, reporting a whale in distress.
Thankfully, a Fisheries boat was in the vicinity and swiftly responded to their message.
The Beluga whales are normally quite friendly and will often swim along fishing boats in hope they will be given some food so it was not a surprise that the distressed whale was, according to the fishermen and Inspectors “very safe and tame” and seemed comfortable around humans.
They lured it close to the boat with cod fillets and a fisherman eventually decided to put on a wetsuit, went into the water and unfastened the clip himself. The whale swam around the boat a few times, as if saying ‘thank you’, before it went away.
It came as a surprise to the fishermen and the inspectors, upon closer inspection, to realize that the harness was fitted to hold an attachment point for a GoPro.
The harness was marked with the label ‘Equipment St. Petersburg’, which led the Directorate of Fisheries to assume that “the whale has probably escaped from Russia where it may have been trained to perform different missions such as underwater photography.”
Audun Rikardsen, professor at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø told Norwegian VG that neither Russian or Norwegian researchers use harnesses on whales and that he has been in contact with a few Russian researchers who confirmed it. According to them, it was most likely the work of the Russian Navy in Murmansk.
On April 29th, deputy head of the Beluga program
at the AN Severtsov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dimitry Glazov, responded to the situation via Interfax and admitted that the Russian military has, indeed, worked with Beluga whales before.
“There is an institute in St. Petersburg that cooperates with the military in studying animals for applied purposes, and it works in the Cossack Bay on the Black Sea and in Murmansk,” Glazov said.
He also mentioned that the whales had been used for security work before, during the Sochi Olympics but that it is not known if they could be used for reconnaissance or intelligence operations.
He went on to add the the whale most likely escaped the facility where it had been captive.