Russian 'spy' beluga whale spotted in Swedish waters

A beluga whale named "Hvaldimir," who is believed to have been trained by the Russian military, has been spotted in Swedish waters. Photo Courtesy of Jorgen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries
1 of 2 | A beluga whale named "Hvaldimir," who is believed to have been trained by the Russian military, has been spotted in Swedish waters. Photo Courtesy of Jorgen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries

May 30 (UPI) -- A beluga whale, believed to have been trained for surveillance by the Russian military, has been spotted off the coast of Sweden, according to advocates who track the whale.

OneWhale, an organization that advocates for the safety of the whale known as Hvaldimir said that Swedish authorities "immediately" contacted them upon his arrival in its waters and "even closed a bridge to protect him.


"We are impressed by Sweden's show of care for Hvaldimir," the group's founder, Regina Haug, said.

Last week, Hvaldimir was spotted in Norwegian waters, prompting the nation's Directorate of Fisheries to issue a warning.

"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 Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen.

OneWhale said it was "extremely concerned" for Hvaldimir's safety after he turned up in Oslo, Norway's capital, as it has observed his movements gaining in speed in recent months.


While beluga whales tend to travel in groups, Hvaldimir has been observed alone without a group accompanying him.

"Hvaldimir's situation remains an extremely vulnerable one as Sweden is a highly populated country, but we are very grateful Swedish authorities have quickly taken action to care for the whale," OneWhale President Rich German said.

OneWhale believes the best solution for Hvaldimir is to build or designate a large habitat where he will be free but protected.

"One solution for his immediate safety and protection is to relocate him into his own safe fjord and create a protected nature reserve around the world's most famous beluga whale," OneWhale wrote on their website.

"A protected reserve will allow Hvaldimir to have protection from tourists, and allow him to live his life in the most natural way possible," OneWhale continued.

When Hvaldimir was first observed by Norwegian fisherman in 2019, he was wearing a harness, which was removed from his body. The harness reportedly had markings reading "Equipment of St. Petersburg."

Norwegian Intelligence told the BBC it believes Hvaldimir was trained by the Russian military, but Moscow has never officially addressed that claim.

Advocates emphasize that whales raised in captivity could struggle to communicate with other whales and believe that Hvaldimir is approaching humans because he is used to interacting with them as opposed to other whales.


It is not known where Hvaldimir was originally held in captivity, but Russia has multiple facilities where aquatic mammals are held for both military and ostensibly civilian purposes.

Satellite images purportedly to show compounds in Nakhodka, Russia, where around 100 whales were being held, presumably for export to aquariums internationally.

There has been speculation that Hvaldimir escaped from the Murmansk naval facility in Russia.

It is also believed that Russia trains aquatic animals for surveillance, the government has released advertisements showing interest in acquiring dolphins.

Advocates have raised concerns that ice formation around the compounds could be a sign that the whales are being held in dangerous conditions that could lead to hypothermia.

While Hvaldimir has been free since at least 2019, the Russian military moved several dolphin pens to the area of their Naval installations in Sevastopol bay, in Russian-occupied Crimea, in February, 2022, presumably to detect infiltration attempts from the Ukrainian military.

The U.S. military has trained dolphins to detect mines and recover lost objects.

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