The whale first attracted attention in 2019 for harassing Norwegian fishermen and wearing a belt with Russian writing on it. Now the behavior of the animal is again a mystery.
A beluga whale believed to have been trained by the Russian Navy has surfaced for the first time in three years. This time the animal was observed off the Swedish coast, reports the British “Guardian”.
The whale sparked speculation in Norway in 2019 because of its strange behavior. He also wore a harness with Russian inscriptions on it. Norway then accused Moscow of serving as a Russian spy.
Now marine experts are puzzling again about the behavior of the belugas: Since 2019, the animal has been slowly moving along the Norwegian coast towards Sweden. In the past few months, things have suddenly picked up speed. The whale appeared in Hunnebostrand off the southwest coast of Sweden last Sunday.
“Don’t know why he has become so fast now”
“We don’t know why he’s going so fast now,” Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist at OneWhale, told The Guardian. It is particularly strange that the whale “moved away from its natural environment very quickly”.
The whale’s extraordinary behavior could be due to a natural cause: “It could be hormones driving it to seek a mate. Or loneliness, since beluga are a very social species – it could be that it’s looking for other beluga whales “, according to Strand. The animal is estimated to be 13 or 14 years old. According to Strand, hormones also play a role.
The closest beluga population is in the Svalbard archipelago, which is halfway between the north coast of Norway and the North Pole. The whale is believed to have had no contact with other belugas since arriving in Norway in April 2019.
Whale made work difficult for fishermen in Norway
Norwegian fishermen off the coast of Finnmark sounded the alarm in 2019: a beluga whale wearing a harness had harassed their boats. Marine researchers also noticed unusual behavior: the marine mammal actively seeks out ships, even pulling objects and ropes from them.
Shortly thereafter, the harness the whale was wearing was also removed. According to a Guardian report, the inside of the strap had a strange inscription: “Equipment of St. Petersburg.” In addition, a camera was attached to the holder.
Norway then targeted the Russian Navy. The country accused Russia of training whales into special forces and using them as weapons. Moscow never officially responded to speculation that the animal might be a “Russian spy.” However, Russian experts emphasized that the whale is unlikely to be used by the Russian military, but probably for scientific purposes.
Use of dolphins and seals in the Russian military
However, the use of marine mammals in the Russian military is not new. The Soviet Union was already training dolphins for reconnaissance in the 1980s. The program was discontinued in the 1990s. However, a 2017 report by Russian TV channel TV Zvezda documents seals, beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins being trained for military purposes in the Arctic Ocean.
In particular, beluga whales are to be used to guard the entrances to the naval bases, as the Guardian reports. The animals are very territorial and can kill strangers who trespass on their territory.
On the other hand, dolphins and seals are said to have been trained, among other things, to transport tools for divers and to discover torpedoes, mines and other ammunition. Beluga whales are considered very sensitive to cold and cannot remember as many human commands as seals, for example.