The sighting of a beluga whale wearing a Russian-made harness has caused media speculation that the animal may have come from a Russian military facility.
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The whale was recently seen swimming alongside fishermen off the coast of Norway.
Video footage obtained by ABC News shows the beluga whale bobbing its head in and out of the water and behaving in a friendly manner with local fishermen. Its harness had the words “Equipment St. Petersburg” etched on it.
“We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats,” one of the fisherman, Joar Hesten, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it.”
Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway clarified earlier reports that quoted him as saying the Russian navy “has done this” to the whale.
“All I know is that both Russian and U.S. military have had active marine mammal programs in the past, but I have no detailed knowledge. I don’t see why they would equip those whales with harnesses,” he told ABC News. “I would assume that harnesses are generally only used for short-term deployments, as they may cause chafing and other discomfort over longer time periods. What I can say for almost certain is that no researchers in Norway, and almost certainly not in Denmark/Greenland, use this method of attachment for any research related work. Whether scientists in Russia do, I have no idea.”
The behavior of the Beluga whale, however, is a “clear sign” that the animal had been trained and the inscription on the harness means it is “safe to assume the whale is indeed from Russia,” Biuw said.
“I wouldn’t say the behavior is normal, even though whales from time to time are curious and friendly,” Biuw noted. “One of the videos shows the whale bobbing its head out of the water and opening its mouth. This is a clear sign that the animal is trained, as this behavior is usually associated with begging for food from the trainer.”
He added, “Some in the media have indeed had a field day with this, and stretched it a bit too far I think.”
The harness was removed successfully by the fishermen who spotted the whale, according to The Associated Press.
Little is known about Russia’s use of marine life for its military, although The Washington Post reported that the Defense Ministry in Russia advertised that it was looking to buy five Bottlenose dolphins for unknown purposes in 2016.
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