NORWAY — A beluga whale believed by marine experts to have been trained by the Russian military is enjoying its stay in Norway — and the locals are loving it, too.
Hammerfest resident Tor Arild Guleng told CNN that he went to look for the whale in a nearby fjord, and was surprised by the mammal’s reaction.
Guleng said the whale swam toward the boat with its head out of the water for around 30 seconds, as if waiting for orders.
“It followed the boat all the way to Hammerfest,” he said, describing “quite a big fuss” in the port as people flocked to see the whale.
Videos posted online show the alleged Russian operative being fed by hand, dancing in circles and even checking out an inquisitive dog.
National broadcaster NRK started a poll asking their readers to name the neighborhood’s newest celebrity and there have been more than 1,000 suggestions. The most popular names include Snow White, Agent James Beluga and White Russian.
No one knows where the whale appeared from, and Guleng doesn’t think we will find out any time soon.
“I’m not sure anyone would admit having lost a whale,” he said.
And Guleng emphasized that feelings are mixed in Hammerfest.
People are excited to play with a tame whale, he said, but sad that the escaped beluga may not survive in the wild if it doesn’t know how to hunt.
“It’s an animal with free will,” he said. “It’s not a toy.”
Whale discovered wearing a harness
The whale was first spotted last week by fishermen off Norway’s northern coast, who were shocked to see it wearing a harness complete with mounts for a camera.
Experts believe it may have been trained by the Russian military.
Jorgen Ree Wiig, a marine biologist at Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, told CNN that the harness appeared “specially made” and had “mounts for GoPro cameras on each side of it.”
And the harness clips read “Equipment St. Petersburg,” contributing to a theory that the whale came from Murmansk, Russia, and was trained by the Russian navy.
The navy has “been known to train belugas to conduct military operations before,” Wiig said, “like guarding naval bases, helping divers, finding lost equipment.”
Russian authorities have not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
Martin Biuw, a marine mammal researcher at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, agreed with Wiig, telling CNN: “The fact that it’s a trained animal is undoubtable.”
Biuw stressed that any statement on the whale’s intended purpose would be “pure speculation,” but added: “We know that the Russian military during the Cold War were training belugas to sniff out mines or old torpedoes.”
The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) has not released any information on the whale or the harness, which remains in the hands of investigators.
“We must admit that examining technical equipment attached to whales is not a daily occurrence for PST. It is unclear if we will find anything,” Martin Bernsen, PST senior communications adviser, told CNN via email.
“The whale is not a suspect in our investigation, for now.”