A beluga whale that is thought to be a Russian spy who doesn’t know it is one is on the move, possibly in search of love. But it looks like he is going in a totally wrong way.
The hidden whale is a male beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) named Hvaldimir, who is thought to be between 13 and 14 years old. In April 2019, Hvaldimir was seen for the first time in the cold waters off the coast of Finnmark in northern Norway. He was wearing a collar that said “Equipment of St. Petersburg.” The strap wasn’t part of any known project to study beluga whales, and it looked like it could hold a GoPro camera and other spy gear, but nothing was attached at the time.
Hvaldimir also didn’t seem afraid of people, which suggests he was raised or at least trained by people. This led to more rumors that he was a spy. Russia has never said anything about the claims in an official way. When Hvaldimir was first found, the harness was taken off.
Hvaldimir was seen for the first time in 2019
A Norwegian non-profit group called OneWhale that works to protect Hvaldimir said that he has spent most of the last three years in northern Norway. But on May 28, 2023 OneWhale saw Hvladimir near Hunnebostrand, off the southwest coast of Sweden, after he had quickly moved south, according to AFP.
“We don’t know exactly why he’s moving so fast,” Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist with the OneWhale group, told AFP. “It could be that his hormones are driving him to find a mate.” But Hvaldimir’s current path is taking him “very quickly away from his natural environment,” said Strand.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that most male belugas are ready to mate by the time they are 15 years old. So Hvalidimir might be looking for a mate because of his hormones.
Strand said that the lone beluga could also just be looking for other belugas, no matter what gender they are. Belugas are very social animals, but scientists think that Hvaldimir hasn’t met another one of his own kind since they started following him in 2019.
No matter what he is trying to do, Hvaldimir is going in the wrong way. Beluga whales only live in the high Arctic, in places like Greenland, Canada, Russia, and Norway’s Svalbard island. Nobody knows of any belugas living in the water around Sweden.
Experts don’t know why Hvaldimir is going in the wrong direction, but it could be because he was sent from Russia to Norway as part of his task and doesn’t know this part of the world. AFP said it’s also possible that he was held captive for a long time, which could have dulled his natural reflexes.
So far, Hvaldimir seems to be in good health. He has been seen hunting wild salmon near fish farms near Norway’s border with Sweden. But the last time he was seen, he may have lost some weight, and experts are worried that he won’t be able to find enough food this far south, according to AFP.
View this post on Instagram
OneWhale is now asking the Swedish government for permission to catch Hvaldimir and move him to a bay in Norway, where he can live out the rest of his days in peace. In 2020, two belugas that had been kept as pets in China were safely set free in a similar refuge in Iceland. (According to NOAA, beluga whales usually live to be about 40 years old, but they can live up to 70 years).
This is not the first time that Russia has been thought to train whales and dolphins for military use. In April 2022, images from satellites showed that the country had trained dolphins to protect one of its sites in Crimea, which is in the Black Sea. The Naval Information Warfare Center says that since 1959, the U.S. Navy has also trained dolphins and sea lions for use in military activities.