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Beluga Whale Fitted With Russian Harness Raises Suspicions In Norway

Posted on 29 April 2019

It’s a whale of a tale.Fishermen in the Barents Sea near the tiny fishing village of Inga in Arctic Norway saw a very odd creature last week: A white beluga whale fitted with a tight harness.

The whale was friendly, pushy even, swimming right up to boats, trying to pull straps and ropes from the sides.

“We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats,” fisherman Joar Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, The Guardian reported. “It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it.”

On Friday, fisherman Joar Hesten took a dip in the frigid water and removed the harness. Inside the strap are the words “Equipment of St. Petersburg.”

The harness, which wrapped around the whales body and under its fins, “seemed to be for a camera or weapon,” the Guardian reported.

That drew suspicions from marine experts that the animal had been trained by Russia to do… something.

“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, the Guardian said.

Audun Rikardsen, professor at the department of arctic and marine biology at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), told NRK: “We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and also that some of these have apparently been released. Then they often seek out boats.” He said he had contacted Russian researchers who said the harnessed whale had nothing to do with them. “They tell me that most likely is the Russian navy in Murmansk,” said Rikardsen.

The Associated Press added some details.

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.

The now-defunct USSR had tested a program in the 1980s in which dolphins were trained for military training. And in 2017,  TV Zvezda, a station owned by the defense ministry, reported that Russia “has again been training beluga whales, seals and bottlenose dolphins for military purposes in polar waters,” said the Guardian.



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