Russian ‘beluga spy’ spotted near Sweden

The beluga whale Hvaldimir, discovered four years ago wearing a strange harness earning him suspicions of having been used by the Russian navy, is currently on the west coast of Sweden, according to an NGO which follows its movements.

Spotted for the first time in the waters of the Norwegian Arctic in 2019, the name of this white cetacean of several meters comes from a pun associating the word whale (hval, in Norwegian), and the emblematic Russian first name.

Spotted off Norway a few days ago

After being spotted in recent days in the Oslo fjord, it was observed this Sunday further south in the North Sea, at Hunnebostrand, on the Swedish west coast, said Sebastian Strand of the organization OneWhale.

After spending three years slowly descending from northern Norway, he has been heading south in recent months, for some unexplained reason. “We don’t know why it is moving so fast at the moment”, especially “as it is moving away from its natural environment”, underlined the marine biologist.

“It could be the hormones pushing him to find a mate. Or loneliness, belugas being very social, he could be looking for others”. Aged between 13 and 14 according to estimates, “Hvaldimir” was spotted in April 2019 off the Arctic region of Finnmark, in the Norwegian Far North.

A possible Russian spy

The biologists who had approached him had managed to remove the harness fixed around his head. This was equipped with a base for a small camera, with the text “Equipment St. Peterburg” printed in English on the plastic straps.

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The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries speculated at the time that Hvaldimir had escaped from a pen, and had been dragged away by the Russian Navy, as he seemed accustomed to human company and had a tendency to approach ships. Moscow has never officially commented on the speculation.

Hvaldimir looks healthy

Beluga whales traditionally live much further north, near Greenland, or in the waters of the Russian or Norwegian Arctic. The Barents Sea and the North Atlantic are strategic areas for Western and Russian navies, a usual contact zone for their submarines.

According to Sebastian Strand, Hvaldimir appears healthy in recent years, feeding on fish attracted to large farmed salmon farms in Norway. But OneWhale is worried that he will be able to find food where he is, saying he has already identified signs of weight loss.

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