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02 June, 2023
 
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Norway warns people to stay away to protect spy whale's well-being

The Beluga whale named Hvaldimir is known to follow boats and play with those on board

Source: CNN

People should “avoid contact” with a famous beluga whale to avoid accidentally injuring or killing it, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries has said.

The whale, nicknamed Hvaldimir, shot to international fame in 2019 after it was spotted wearing a specially made harness with mounts for a camera, leading experts to believe the whale may have been trained by the Russian military.

Since 2019, it has “been traveling along the Norwegian coast” with a few stops along the way, according to the directorate, which added that Hvaldimir “tends to stay at farms where it has been able to catch fish, grazing on surplus feed.”

Hvaldimir is known to follow boats and play with those on board.

The whale, which is a protected species in Norway, now lives in inner Oslofjord, the directorate said.

This “means that it has arrived in a very densely populated area, and the risk that the whale may be injured due to human contact has become significantly greater,” it added.

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

But he urged people to keep their distance, “even though the whale is tame and used to being around people.”

“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,” said Bakke-Jensen.

Given the dangers, Bakke-Jensen was asked whether the whale should be placed in captivity.

“We have always communicated that the whale in question is a free-living animal and we see no reason to capture it and put it behind barriers,” he said.

However, now that the whale is “in a more vulnerable area and access to food may be limited, we will consider different measures,” added Bakke-Jensen. “But it is too early to say anything concrete about that yet.”

The Directorate of Fisheries will monitor the whale’s movements in the hope that it turns around when it reaches the end of the Oslofjord.

In 2019, experts told CNN that Hvaldimir was a trained animal, and evidence suggested that it had come from Russia.

Jorgen Ree Wiig, a marine biologist at Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, told CNN that the harness appeared “specially made” and had “mounts for GoPro cameras on each side of it.”

And the harness clips read “Equipment St. Petersburg,” contributing to a theory that the whale came from Murmansk, Russia, and was trained by the Russian navy.

The navy has “been known to train belugas to conduct military operations before,” Wiig said, “like guarding naval bases, helping divers, finding lost equipment.”

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