Putin's Latest Spy? The 'dark' Russian side of the white Beluga whale

Meet the newest Russian spy — the friendly white Beluga whale sporting unusual strapping.

 |  5-minute read |   30-04-2019
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Fishermen in waters near the small Norwegian fishing village of Inga were in for a strange sight when they went out on their boats last week.

According to media reports, a white Beluga whale wearing a strange harness had begun to follow their fishing boats.

The fisherman said the whale was very tame and seemed used to human beings. “We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats,” fisherman Joar Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it,” he added. In fact, the video taken by the fishermen shows the animal playfully swimming along and trying to rub off against the hulls of the boat.

However, the tale is not as warm as it initially seems.

The strange behaviour of the whale — of actively seeking out vessels and trying to pull straps and ropes from the sides of the boats — and the whale wearing a tight harness raised suspicions among marine experts.

To confirm certain doubts, when the fishermen removed the harness from the whale, they noticed that the words “Equipment of St. Petersburg” were etched on it.

The harness, the experts opine, seemed to be for a camera — or weapon — and the animal seems to have been given military-grade training by neighbouring Russia.

“If this whale comes from Russia — and there is are strong reasons to believe it does — then it is not Russian scientists, but rather, the navy that has done this,” Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway reportedly told the media.

main_russian-spy-wha_043019032957.jpgPutin's new spy? The white whale swimming along the Norwegian boat — experts suspect it of being a trained Russian weapon. (Source: AP)

Audun Rikardsen, professor at the department of arctic and marine biology at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), confirmed the theory. Speaking to the Norwegian broadcaster, he said, “We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and that some of these have apparently been released. Then they often seek out boats.” He further said the whale was not for scientific experiment/studying, as was confirmed to him by the Russian researchers when he contacted them. “The Russian researchers say that the harnessed whale had nothing to do with them. They tell me that most likely it's the Russian navy in Murmansk,” said Rikardsen.

“If this whale has this (harness) on for a long time, then it is not good for it,” Rikardsen added.

This is not the first time that cetaceans are being trained for military work.

Back in the 1980s, when it was 'Soviet Russia', a programme saw dolphins recruited for military training. Dolphins made excellent and efficient underwater tools for detecting weapons owing to their razor-sharp vision, stealth and an excellent memory. The training was not limited to dolphins — it included other marine mammals, including whales, sea lions and seals, during the Cold War, Vietnam War and the Iraq War, by both US and Russia. In the US, the ongoing Navy Marine Mammal Programme is based in San Diego, California — where animals are trained to detect enemy sea mines, protect ports and recover suspicious objects from the sea bed.

War-mongering nations have found a sinister use for each animal.

The 2017 report by TV Zvezda, a station owned by the Russian defence ministry, revealed that the Russian navy is still training Beluga whales, seals and bottlenose dolphins for military purposes in polar waters.

Recent research and training were reportedly done by Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute in northern Russia — on behalf of the navy to see if Beluga whales could be used to “guard entrances to naval bases’” in Arctic regions, “assist deepwater divers — and if necessary kill any strangers who enter their territory”.

Dolphins and seals meanwhile were trained to carry tools for divers and detect torpedoes, mines and other ammunition which has sunk to depths of up to 120 metres. Government public records show that the Russian defence ministry purchased five bottle-nosed dolphins, aged between three and five, from Moscow’s Utrish Dolphinarium in 2016 at a cost of £18,000.

The Murmansk sea biology research institute, in fact, has conducted research on the sea animals that are best suited for military operations. According to their conclusion, dolphins and seals were much more suited to the training and arctic climates than Beluga whales — the whales were deemed too sensitive to the cold and did not have the same “high professionalism” of seals, which had a far better memory for remembering oral commands.

All this to cater to the security of three former Soviet military bases along the country’s vast Arctic coastline that were reopened in the past three years by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Do the cetaceans — or any other animals for that matter — want, or even care, to be a part of this mad race of one-upmanship among these warring factions?  

If only animals had their independent agency and could tell us.

If only we cared to listen to them.

Also read: Don't subject the Great Indian Bustard to politics of hate

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