A wayward whale strapped with Russian equipment seems to have fallen for Norway and its people.
Anyone who has ever seen George C. Scott in The Day of the Dolphin knows that marine mammals are not only smart enough to communicate with humans, but can also be coerced into nefarious plots.
Which may be what we have on our hands in the Norwegian port city of Hammerfest, where an extroverted beluga whale (like the one pictured above) has been lingering around since last week, reports The Washington Post.
An official for Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries told The Post that the beluga “was the first thing I saw outside of the window” of his patrol boat ship in the morning. He said that the whale has traveled only around 25 nautical miles over the last week, and appears to like humans – "which he noted was 'strange' for a beluga." It has even allowed people to pet it – you can see how friendly it is in the video below.
The whale first came to light when Norwegian fisherman saw it acting strangely by persistently "harassing" their boats. The noticed that the creature had an unusual get-up strapped around its body. Once they got it off, they had their first clue in this whale of a mystery. The harness read, “Equipment St. Petersburg.”
They gave the harness to Norway’s special police security agency (PST) – which has yet to comment. The Post writes:
"Researchers say the harness could have carried weapons or cameras, triggering fresh speculation about a sea mammal special operations program that the Russian navy is believed to have been pursuing for years. Although the Russian Defense Ministry has denied the existence of such a program, the same ministry published an ad in 2016 seeking three male and two female bottlenose dolphins and offering a total of $24,000."
Goodness, the plot thickens! But this is nothing new. The U.S. has been working with marine mammals since 1960, when the Navy's Marine Mammal Program was started. As described by PBS, the Navy "trained dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions and other marine mammals to perform various underwater tasks, including delivering equipment to divers underwater, locating and retrieving lost objects, guarding boats and submarines, and doing underwater surveillance using a camera held in their mouths."
Of course, the risk one runs when working with intelligent creatures is they may just decide to jump ship, so to speak, as it appears our comrade cetacean has done. Now Norwegian officials just have to figure out what to do with their new defector. For now, they are considering moving it to a sanctuary in Iceland, some 1,250 miles away; a sanctuary sounds good, since the whale seems to have been socialized by humans. And hopefully, far out of reach of the Kremlin, which doesn't have the best reputation in dealing with former spies.
Whatever its fate may be, we're wishing the best for this sweet creature. На здоровье, little whale!