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Russian beluga spy whale Hvaldimir reappears off the coast of Sweden

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A Russian beluga spy whale named Hvaldimir (a pun on the Norwegian word “hval” for “whale” and the name of the Russian president) has been spotted off the southwest coast of Sweden after spending more than three years moving down the Norwegian coastline, according to a report by The Guardian.

When the whale was first spotted near Norway in 2019, authorities suspected the animal was a spy trained by the Russian navy. As reported by CNN, its collar – marked “Equipment St. Petersburg” – was fitted with GoPro video camera mounts, and the whale was also accustomed to following ships. The collar was later removed by marine biologists from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries.

Directorate officials said Hvaldimir may have escaped an enclosure, and may have been trained by the Russian military, as he appeared to be used to humans.

Southern Sweden's waters are too warm for beluga whales, and these whales typically live closer to the Arctic Circle. “We don’t know why he has sped up so fast right now,” Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist with the OneWhale organisation, told The Guardian. The scientist added that it was particularly puzzling as the whale was moving “very quickly away from his natural environment.”

“It could be hormones driving him to find a mate. Or it could be loneliness, as belugas are a very social species – it could be that he’s searching for other beluga whales,” the expert suggested.

The Beluga is believed to be 13-14 years old and is “at an age where his hormones are very high.” The whale is not believed to have seen a single other beluga since arriving in Norway in April 2019.

Strand told The Guardian the whale’s health “seemed to be very good” in recent years, and it had been foraging wild fish under Norway’s salmon farms.

Last week, Norwegian authorities have cautioned the public to keep away from the whale in order to avoid harming the animal. In a statement issued on May 24, Norwegian Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen said that “so far there have only been minor incidents where the whale has suffered minor injuries, primarily from contact with boats.”

Bakke-Jensen urged people to keep their distance, “even though the whale is tame and used to being around people.”

“We especially encourage people in boats to keep a good distance to avoid the whale being injured or, in the worst case, killed by boat traffic,” said the official.

In April 2023, Naval News reported that after drone attacks in occupied Sevastopol, Russia strengthened the defense of the city and its harbor with combat dolphins. A diagram of the defenses appeared to contain enclosures for the “anti-diver” dolphins.

In 2017, the Russian state-run channel Zvezda reported on a government program to train beluga whales, seals and dolphins for military use.

Beluga whales, which can reach a size of about six meters (20 ft) and live to between 40 and 60 years, generally inhabit the icy waters around Greenland, northern Norway and Russia.

Cover photo: Jorgen Ree Wiig / Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries

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