Beluga whale with Russian harness raises alarm in Norway

WION Web Team Copenhagen, Denmark Apr 30, 2019, 10.31 AM(IST)

Some fishermen in Norway stumbled upon a white beluga whale with a tight harness, which they say appeared to be Russian made. Photograph:( AP )

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Fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around.

Some fishermen in Norway stumbled upon a white beluga whale with a tight harness, which they say appeared to be Russian made. The captured whale has raised alarm in Norway and prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility.

"The white beluga whale outside the Finnmark coast that had tight straps attached around the body has been freed by the crew from the Directorate of Fisheries'. The crew from the sea service is trained to free whales from ropes and fishing gear and together with the help of a local fisherman Joar Hesten they managed to release the whale yesterday," said a tweet posted by the Norway's Directorate of Fisheries on Saturday.

Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said "Equipment St. Petersburg" is written on the harness strap, which features a mount for an action camera. Notably, Russia has a naval base in the region.

He said that fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around. On Friday, a fisherman, aided by the Ree Wiig, jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.

He said "people in Norway's military have shown great interest" in the harness.

Norway's Aftenposten daily reported that the Russian military is 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, northern Norway, believes "it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk" is involved. Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.

It wasn't immediately clear what the mammal was being trained for, or whether it was supposed to be part of any Russian military activity in the region.

Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and said they have not reported any programme or experiments using beluga whales.

"This is a tame animal that is used to get 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."

Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself again his boat when he first spotted it.

Both Russia and Norway share a land and a maritime border. Tensions have recently escalated between the two nations over dominance in the Arctic region.

Whales are useful in detecting weapons, attacking divers and detecting underwater mines.

Russia is not alone in this regard. The US army had actively used 'military dolphins' during the Iraq war.

(With inputs from agencies)