Why Norwegians are worried about a mysterious beluga whale that appeared off Norway’s Arctic coast

It might not be able to fend for itself. And it might be a spy.

By Reuters - May 1, 2019

A white beluga whale is loitering off the coast of northern Norway, and that is starting to worry Norwegians, who are afraid it might not be able to fend for itself. Also, it might be a spy.

The whale first showed up a few weeks ago when it swam up to Joar Hesten’s fishing boat. Hesten got in touch with the authorities, who were interested, because Hesten was off the northern coast and whales don’t often show up there this time of the year.

“We asked him if he could just try to have it around his boat until we arrived,” Joergen Ree Wiig, an inspector at the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. That wasn’t hard, it turned out.

“The whale was really friendly, came up to us and started opening its mouth, checking us out,” Wiig said.

The whale was wearing a harness strapped around its neck, and written on the harness strap was “Equipment St. Petersburg”.

Hesten and Wigg turned the harness over to the police because the nearest St. Petersburg to Norway is in Russia and they wondered if they might have some kind of Russian spy whale on their hands.

The harness held a camera mount, so the thought was not entirely outlandish, but the lettering on the harness was in English, not Russian, and used the Roman alphabet, not Cyrillic.

On the other hand, Russia does have spy whales, although it’s not claiming this one just yet.

“We have restarted training of military dolphins,” said Colonel Viktor Baranets, a Russian military expert. “Their tasks remain the same. As to the use of common bottlenose dolphins, for instance, or beluga whales, I was told in the Sevastopol dolphinarium that these animals are not used (at the Russian Black Sea naval base) in Sevastopol.

“As to Russia’s North … I was told that Russian scientists are using beluga whales for tasks in civil information gathering, rather than military tasks.” Exactly what the difference might be, the colonel didn’t say.

It wouldn’t be the first time a whale has been used to gather information in the Arctic. NASA’s Ocean’s Melting Greenland program has used narwhals to collect data about freshwater melt from Greenland’s tidewater glaciers.

In any case, the Norwegian police security service, PST, took custody of the harness, presumably to try to track down its origin.

Wiig’s Fisheries Directorate is more now concerned about how the whale will make out. It shows no inclination to go home — wherever that might be.