Some of you might have heard of Hvaldimir, the “Russian spy” beluga. Maybe you even heard of him without knowing his name. This beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) has become quite famous in Northern Norway. He was found on April 26th, 2019, in a little fjord called Tufjord, on an island off the northern Norwegian coast (Finnmark). What surprised the locals was the friendly behavior of the lonely whale … and the fact he was wearing a harness with a GoPro holder. The researchers who came to the fjord to help with the situation had trouble removing the whale’s harness. When they finally released the poor whale, they saw “Equipment of Saint Petersburg” on the harness label.
A Russian Spy beluga?
People started speculating on the origin of the beluga whale. The rumor that this friendly lonely whale was a Russian spy, trained in secret by the navy, blew up. This is how the whale got its name: Hvaldimir. Hval means “whale” in Norwegian and the link between Russia and Vladimir is self-explanatory…
The friendliest whale
Hvaldimir started interacting with the locals and his playful interactions were a hit. Everybody fell in love with Hvaldimir. Four days after his arrival in Tufjord, the charming whale followed a boat to Hammerfest, a bigger city in Northern Norway, where he spent 3 months. With more locals and tourists in Hammerfest, Hvaldimir became quite the local attraction. People were impressed with how good the whale was at playing fetch. He allowed people to pet him, and I am sure you can understand how everybody fell in love with him.
However, one problem started to emerge. Hvaldimir was quite slim … and did not seem to be eating and searching for food. When the Norwegian Orca Survey came to assess his hunting behavior, they found he did not know how to feed himself. So they, with the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, started to organize a feeding and monitoring program for Hvaldimir. It saved the whale’s life and allowed it to become strong and healthy again. Researchers kept adapting his diet to help him find food on his own. They started to notice Hvaldimir displaying somewhat of a hunting behavior towards fish.
Hvaldimir’s new life
While researchers were thinking about a way to relocate Hvaldimir, the little whale left Hammerfest (July 19th, 2019) and started to feed by itself! Today, volunteers and researchers keep monitoring Hvaldimir’s movements and health remotely to make sure he is doing well. The only issue for researchers is the whale’s lack of social interactions with other beluga whales. Beluga whales are super social, and they need to live together. Hvaldimir is alone most of the time, far away from his peers, and likely feeling lonely. He will most likely interact with humans again at some point.
The Norwegian Orca Survey and all the volunteers did a fantastic job helping Hvaldimir become independent. If you want to help, you can donate money to Hvaldimir’s foundation to help monitor him here.
The controversy of Hvaldimir’s origin: Spy? Caught in the wild?
So is Hvaldimir a Russian spy?
We might never know.
The Russian navy trains marine mammals
Russians train dolphins and beluga whales in the navy. It was confirmed by an ex-Russian colonel. A navy facility in Kola peninsula (Russia), close to Finnmark (Northern Norway) holds captive belugas in tiny pools, which could indicate they train beluga whales for something. Do you think Hvaldimir escaped from one of these navy whale facilities? Or maybe he was ordered by the Russian navy to spy on Norway? The navy never confirmed or denied Hvaldimir escaped from their facilities. What is certain, however, is that nobody reported a missing whale.
If Hvaldimir did not escape from a whale jail, where could he come from?
An ex-Norwegian consul in Russia said Hvaldimir reminded him of a “therapy” whale he had encountered in Northern Russia. The whale was trained as emotional support for children. Hvaldimir could have been released or have escaped by some unknown way and reached Finnmark. Apparently, it is common for some Russian organizations to train marine mammals (including belugas) to perform various tasks (retrieve objects, provide emotional support, help divers in distress, etc.). Maybe Hvaldimir escaped from a non-military training facility. But then, why does Russia have so many captive marine mammals?
Russia catches marine mammals…
A Russian scientist told the Guardian he thought that Hvaldimir’s appearance reminded him of East Russian beluga whales. East Russia is home to the awful “whale jail”. In this whale jail, killer whales and beluga whales stay in tiny pools (sea pens) after they are caught in the wild before they get sold to various aquaria and facilities. This terrible whale jail got much attention last year due to horrible living conditions for the whales. The whales (87 beluga and about 10 killer whales) were kept for months in tiny sea pens. It took a global international outcry to force Russian authorities to release them and declare their capture illegal. Even so, their release was chaotic, lasted months, and some whales were harmed in the process. Other whale jails could exist. Where does the military get their whales? What do you think?
In conclusion, it does not matter where Hvaldimir comes from, as long as he’s healthy.
What do you think?
Is Hvaldimir a Russian spy beluga? What to you think of the whale jail? Let us know down below.
- Hvaldimir foundation
- The navy sea pens in the Kola peninsula
- Is Hvaldimir a spy or a child therapist?
- BBC article on Hvaldimir
- Article on release of whales from Russian whale jail
Do you know why beluga whales have squishy heads? Come read more about it here.
Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.