When an oddly tame beluga whale swam up to a Finnish fishing boat, the men aboard weren’t entirely sure what to think.
When they saw that the little whale was wearing a harness that experts believe was designed to mount a weapon or a camera, theories about the Russian military immediately began to surface.
Fisherman Joar Hesten described the encounter.
“We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats. It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it.”
Other area fishing boats report similar encounters, and the whale’s behavior certainly seems to indicate that it’s been trained.
“It always searches for boats and people, and then it comes all the way to the boat and tries to rub the straps off.”
Believing that the whale was asking for help, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries stepped in and managed to remove the harness – which had “Equipment of St. Petersburg” emblazoned on the inside.
Experts believe the whale may have escaped from Murmansk Naval Base in northern Russia. According to The Guardian, Russia has been training beluga whales to guard naval bases, aid deepwater divers, and even kill trespassers.
Professor Audun Rikardsen of the Arctic University of Norway told NRK that he agrees with the assessment.
“We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and also that some of these have apparently been released. Then they often seek out boats.”
What’s even crazier is that this (if true) isn’t the first time marine life has been called up for naval service – since 1959, the US Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego has been training marine animals like bottlenose dolphins and sea lions to detect and clear mines, recover equipment, and protect ships.
The Soviet Navy began a similar project during the Cold War, and it is now in Russian hands.
That said, we don’t know anything for sure just yet. The whale almost certainly lived in captivity and had regular contact with humans, but it could just as easily have belonged to a scientist as the government. There’s also no way to tell whether it was released on purpose or escaped, and Rikardsen advises caution.
“We do not know everything yet, but I have contacted Russian researchers who we hope can check this out and clarify what lies behind it.”
I’m taking bets on whether we ever hear a peep about this story again.