Officials in Norway suspect a white beluga whale found by fishermen wearing a tight harness with a camera attachment might have escaped a Russian military facility.
Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries spokesman Joergen Ree Wiig said “Equipment St Petersburg” was written on the harness strap.
Mr Wiig said fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean swimming around their vessel.
A fisherman, Joar Hesten, jumped into the frigid water on Friday to remove the harness.
Mr Wiig said “people in Norway’s military have shown great interest” in the harness.
A #beluga in a harness has been spotted in #Finnmark, #Norway. Thankfully, these people were able to remove it!
Due to the harness, it's suspected he or she escaped captivity in the Russian marines.
Video via @norge @wiiiig #hvithval #keikoconservaion #keikonorge pic.twitter.com/6VYA4HxkeH
— Keiko Conservation (@KEIKO4CHANGE) April 28, 2019
Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper reported that the Russian military was 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 believed “it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk” was involved.
Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk, on the Kola Peninsula, in the country’s far north-west.
Mr Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself against his boat when he first spotted it.
Mr Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway, and said they had not reported any program 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 doing fine.”