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Dublin: 21 °C Wednesday 12 August, 2020

Beluga whale found in Norwegian waters 'may have been trained by Russian navy'

The whale was wearing a harness bearing the words “Equipment of St. Petersburg”.

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A BELUGA WHALE wearing a harness found in Norwegian waters has prompted questions about whether the sea creature may have been trained by the Russian government.

The whale was found by fishermen off the small village of Ingoya with local news outlet VG reporting that it was wearing a harness bearing the words “Equipment of St. Petersburg”.

One of the fishermen told VG that the whale appeared to be quite tame and swam right up to them.

“The white whale swam right up to the boats and we thought it was a bit fascinating to watch, so it came all the way to our boat and rubbed up to the boat,” Joar Hesten said. 

Norway Beluga Whale The beluga whale with its harness. Source: Joergen Ree Wiig

The apparent Russian origin of the whale has led to questions about where precisely the whale had come from. 

Norwegian marine biologists have said whale training is not something carried out in Norway and that if it is Russian then it is likely not for scientific research. 

“If this 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,” Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research told broadcaster NRK.

Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries says the country’s military has taken “great interest” in the harness.

Norway Beluga Whale Norwegian Joergen Ree Wiig with the whale's harness. Source: PA Images

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso, northern Norway, believes “it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk” is involved.

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Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.

PastedImage-9993 Ingoya in Norway and Murmansk in Russia. Source: Google Maps

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

“This is a tame animal that is used to get 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 doing fine.”

- With reporting by Associated Press

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Rónán Duffy

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