'Hvaldimir,' the Russian 'spy' whale has been spotted again off Sweden

First encountered in 2019 wearing a GoPro camera, "Hvaldimir," the Russian spy beluga whale, has been spotted again in the waters of Sweden.
Christopher McFadden
That Russian spy whale has been spotted again.

Ein Dahmer/Wikimedia Commons 

A beluga whale first spotted off the coast of Norway in 2019 wearing an alleged Russian spy camera has been spotted again, the BBC reports. Labeled as a "Russian spy whale" at the time, the lone Beluga has spent years traveling further southwards in recent months. Nicknamed "Hvaldimir," a portmanteau of "Hval" (meaning "whale" in Norwegian, and "dimir" from the part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Christian name, the Beluga has become something of a minor celebrity since first being encountered.

When "Hvaldimir" was first spotted near the island of Ingoya, Norway, and was found with a harness attached that incorporated a GoPro camera mount and clips bearing the inscription "Equipment of St Petersburg." For this reason, it was surmised that the whale could, indeed, be a genuine Russian-trained spy animal. However, as many have pointed out, including Russian officials, if the whale was a spy whale, Russian authorities would hardly leave such obvious evidence of its origin.

"If we were using this animal for spying, do you think we'd attach a mobile phone number with the message 'Please call this number'?" Russian reserve colonel, Colonel Viktor Baranets, in 2019. "We have military dolphins for combat roles; we don't cover that up," he said.

"In Sevastopol (in Crimea), we have a center for military dolphins, trained to solve various tasks, from analyzing the seabed to protecting a stretch of water, killing foreign divers, attaching mines to the hulls of foreign ships," Colonel Baranets added. The United States is also known for training dolphins for a similar purpose.

Following the discovery, Norway's domestic intelligence agency conducted an investigation and informed the BBC that the Russian military probably trained the whale. Regarding "Hvaldimir's" training, the Russian government has never officially commented. However, they have denied involvement in programs aimed at training marine animals for espionage purposes.

A marine biologist with OneWhale (a nonprofit created expressly for protecting the health and welfare of "Hvaldimir"), Sebastian Strand, said there could be several reasons for the whale's recent change in movements. "We don't know why he has sped up so fast right now," especially since he is moving "very quickly away from his natural environment," he told AFP news agency.

According to Mr. Strand, there are two plausible reasons for his recent shift in behavior. The first one is the possibility of elevated hormone levels that might be compelling him to seek out a partner. Another possible reason, Mr. Strand suggests, could be "loneliness." He further explained that belugas are highly social creatures, and the solitary beluga may be searching for other beluga whales. This would make sense, as Beluga whales typically inhabit the frigid Arctic waters surrounding Greenland, Russia, Alaska, and northern Norway. Some of them also undertake seasonal migrations during the summer.

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