Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it

Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
Joergen Ree Wiig tries to reach the harness attached to a beluga whale before the Norwegian fishermen were able to removed the tight harness, off the northern Norwegian coast Friday, April 26, 2019. The harness strap which features a mount for an action camera, says "Equipment St. Petersburg" which has prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility. (Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Direcorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP)

A beluga whale found in Arctic Norway wearing a harness that suggests links to a military facility in Russia is so tame that residents can pet the mammal on its nose.

The white whale found frolicking in the frigid harbor of Tufjord, a hamlet near Norway's northernmost point, has become "a huge attraction" for locals, one resident said Tuesday. The whale is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock and retrieves plastic rings thrown into the sea.

"The whale is so tame that when you call it, it comes to you," said Linn Saether, adding the whale also reacts to yells and when humans splash their hands in the water.

She said when she throws out a plastic ring, the Beluga whale brings it back to her as she sits on the dock.

"It is a fantastic experience, but we also see it as a tragedy. We can see that it has been trained to bring back stuff that is thrown at sea," Saether, 37, told The Associated Press.

The whale was found with a tight harness reading "Equipment St. Petersburg" in English. The hamlet has a dozen permanent residents and less than 100 people in the warmer season.

"The talk in this hamlet is that it could have escaped from a Russian military facility or even have swam from St. Petersburg, Florida, because of the English-language text," Saether said.

Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
A beluga whale seen as it swims next to a fishing boat before Norwegian fishermen removed the tight harness, swimming off the northern Norwegian coast Friday, April 26, 2019. The harness strap which features a mount for an action camera, says "Equipment St. Petersburg" which has prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility. (Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Direcorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP)

It was not immediately known whether any of the dolphin and whale facilities in St. Petersburg, Florida, were missing a Beluga whale.

On Friday, a fisherman jumped into the frigid Arctic water to remove the harness, which has a mount for a camera, from the whale. It wasn't clear why the strap was attached to the mammal.

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, said he believes "it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk" was involved.

Murmansk is the headquarters for Russia's Northern Fleet, the single most powerful fleet in the Russian navy. The city is located on the Kola Peninsula, in far northwestern Russia close to the Norwegian border.

  • Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
    Norwegian fisherman observes a beluga whale swimming below his boat before the Norwegian fishermen were able to removed the tight harness, off the northern Norwegian coast Friday, April 26, 2019. The harness strap which features a mount for an action camera, says "Equipment St. Petersburg" which has prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility. (Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Direcorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP)
  • Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
    Norwegian fisherman Joar Hesten, who jumped into the frigid Arctic water to cut the harness from a beluga whale off the northern Norwegian coast Friday, April 26, 2019. The harness strap which features a mount for an action camera, says "Equipment St. Petersburg" which has prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility. (Joergen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Direcorate of Fisheries Sea Surveillance Unit via AP)
  • Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
    In this photo taken on Monday, April 29, 2019, Linn Saether poses with a beluga whale, days after a fisherman removed a harness with a mount for camera from the mammal, in Tufjord, Norway. A beluga whale found in Arctic Norway with a tight harness that is believed to have links to a military facility in Russia is so tame that it allows locals to pet the mammal on its nose, resident Linn Saether said Tuesday. The white whale has been frolicking in the frigid harbor of Tufjord, a hamlet near Norway's northernmost point, and has become a local attraction. (Linn Saether via AP)

Russian authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the whale.

But Mikhail Barabanov, a Russian naval analyst at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies think tank, downplayed any links to the Russian military.

"Even if there are military programs for using for navy purposes, they are unlikely to belugas, and such animals are unlikely to be released into the ," he told AP in an email.

"I think that these Norwegian idiots simply robbed certain Petersburg zoologists" who were trying to track , Barabanov said.


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Beluga whale with Russian harness raises alarm in Norway

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