Whale found in harness may have been trained by Russian military

Cetacean discovered in Norway prompts speculation it escaped from Russia’s navy

A beluga whale  swims next to a fishing boat before Norwegian fishermen removed its tight harness. Photograph: Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP

A beluga whale swims next to a fishing boat before Norwegian fishermen removed its tight harness. Photograph: Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP

 

Officials in Norway are investigating after a beluga whale was found wearing a tight harness, prompting speculation the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility.

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

Spokesman Joergen Ree Wiig said fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean swimming around.

On Friday, a fisherman jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.

Mr Wiig said “people in Norway’s military have shown great interest” in the harness.

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

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the department of Arctic and marine biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, said he 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.

Mr Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and that they have not reported any programme or experiments using beluga whales.

“This is a tame animal that is used to getting food served so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen,” he said. “The question is now whether it can survive by finding food by itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity [are] doing fine.” – AP