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A Beluga Believed To Have Russian Navy Training Has Been Caught

ryan.ford 29 Apr 2019

During the Cold War, the superpowers did some pretty far-out things to outwit and outmaneuver each other. But I'm sure they had to think outside the box if they were going to catch their counterparts unawares.

And it seems like maybe the Cold War isn't all the way over, or at least some remnants are still showing up — but if nothing else, the most recent showed up in an appropriately cold place.

Fishermen in Norway were treated to a strange sight when a curious beluga whale wearing a harness rubbed up against their boat.

Instagram | @wiiiig

Naturally, a harness-wearing beluga, out in the wild and not afraid of humans, immediately got the fishermen's interest.

They tried to get the whale to come closer with some snacks so they could get the obviously-tight harness off, but without any luck.

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A few days later, one of the fishermen returned with some curious folks from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries.

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The fisherman had to jump into the icy waters of Arctic Norway to finally get the harness off. What they found on the harness was downright fascinating: a mount for a camera, and the words "Equipment of St. Petersburg."

So, we're not talking about sharks with laser beams here, but this is still pretty alarming.

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That evidence has led officials to believe that the whale came from Russian Navy facilities in Murmansk.

Instagram | @wiiiig

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromso, says that neither Norwegian nor Russian researchers put harnesses on whales, and even reached out to Russian colleagues, who confirmed that this wasn't their doing.

That doesn't leave many options other than military research.

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However, it's unclear what this whale would have been trained to do.

Instagram | @norge

Back in the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. were involved in training dolphins for a variety of missions, including underwater mine detection and locating missing persons. They're talented animals!

And there have been recent reports out of Russia about dolphins, seals, and belugas being trained to "guard entrances to naval bases." Maybe, with the camera, it was a spy whale?

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Adding to all that is how comfortable the harness-wearing beluga seemed around people.

Instagram | @norge

"This is a tame animal that is used to get food served so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen," said Rikardsen. "The question is now whether it can survive by finding food for itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity doing fine."

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So, was this whale a defector or, if indeed it was trained by the military, did the Russian Navy release it on purpose?

Instagram | @wiiiig

If anything, it's entirely possible that it was the latter. Those same reports about belugas being used to guard naval bases stated that the white whales were not well suited for the purpose.

The report stated that they "turned out to be very delicate animals — they easily got ill after long swimming in cold polar waters."

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As for what will happen with the whale now, it's unclear.

After the fisherman released the whale, which he described as "very safe and tame," from its harness, it did a few laps around the boat before swimming off. "It was very used to people, so I do not know if it will manage alone," he said.

Watch the beluga and fisherman interact in the video below!

h/t Associated Press

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