HomeOutdoorsNewsNorway advises residents to stay away from ‘spy’ beluga whale

Norway advises residents to stay away from ‘spy’ beluga whale

by Caitlin Berard
Beluga whale similar to Norway's 'spy whale'
(Photo by cmeder via Getty Images)

Beluga whales are known for their incredibly friendly, social nature, and Norway’s Hvaldimir is no exception. The thing that sets Hvaldimir apart? He might be a Russian “spy.”

In 2019, Norwegians spotted Hvaldimir for the first time, noticing immediately that the chipper whale was wearing…a harness? Looking closer, they saw it was branded “Equipment St. Petersburg” and included mounts for an underwater camera.

The specially designed whale harness led experts to believe that Hvaldimir might have been trained by the Russian Navy. His potential spy activity, however, is not what prompted the warning to residents to keep their distance.

For the past four years, the beluga whale has “been traveling along the Norwegian coast,” according to the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries.

In his travels, Hvaldimir “tends to stay at farms where it has been able to catch fish, grazing on surplus feed.” The congenial cetacean has even been known to follow boats, interacting playfully with the passengers.

Unfortunately, though, the beluga whale has now moved to a densely populated area, putting him at far greater risk of injury or death. Since his move, Hvaldimir has already endured injuries from passing boats.

“So far there have only been minor incidents where the whale has suffered minor injuries, primarily from contact with boats,” Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen said in a statement.

To avoid further injury to the beluga whale, Bakke-Jensen urged the public to give him space. The cetacean is “tame and used to being around people,” but that only increases the risk.

“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,” he added.

Hvaldimir the beluga whale could be moved to a sanctuary

Sadly, because the curious beluga whale is so used to people, he’s not functioning well in the wild. He doesn’t have a pod to lead him to safety, nor does he seem particularly fazed by fishing boats.

In years past, Norwegian wildlife officials maintained that Hvaldimir should remain in the wild. The beluga whale is “a free-living animal,” they said, giving them no reason to place him in confinement.

As admirable as that stance is, the whale is at great risk in the populated area in which he currently resides. As a result, officials are now considering “different measures” to protect him.

To expedite this process, former property mogul Adam Thorpe set up the charity OneWhale, which funds the monitoring and protection of Hvaldimir.

Through this charity, Thorpe hopes to eventually create a sanctuary or reserve to protect him from boat traffic. The move would cause minimal disruption to the beluga whale’s way of life. “He can fish for himself and live as natural a life as possible,” Thorpe told The Guardian.

If it came to fruition, the reserve would house more than just Hvaldimir. It would be large enough to house a number of trained, captive whales.

“By telling the story of this whale we can also offer a reserve to other formerly captive whales,” he said. “There are no salmon farms on the reserve and there are no boats coming in and out, eliminating the risk of propeller injuries.”