A suspected spy whale that was initially discovered in Norway in 2019 wearing a harness, leading to speculations of its affiliation with the Russian navy, has reappeared off the coast of Sweden.
After being found in Norway’s Finnmark region, the Beluga whale gradually made its way down the northern half of the Norwegian coastline over three years. However, in recent months, it accelerated its movement, traversing the second half of the coastline and reaching Sweden.
On Sunday, the whale was spotted in Hunnebostrand on Sweden’s southwest coast.
Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist associated with the OneWhale organization, expressed uncertainty regarding the whale’s sudden increase in speed, particularly since it is venturing far from its natural habitat. Strand suggested that hormonal factors could drive the whale’s accelerated movement, as it is currently in the age range where hormones are significantly active. Alternatively, the whale may be experiencing loneliness, as Belugas are highly social creatures, and it may be searching for other members of its species.
According to Strand, the closest population of Belugas can be found in the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. However, since arriving in Norway in April 2019, the whale has likely not encountered other Belugas.
The whale, estimated to be between 13 and 14 years old, has been given the nickname Hvaldimir by Norwegians, a play on words combining the Norwegian word for whale (hval) and a reference to its speculated Russian association.
When the whale first appeared in the Arctic region of Norway, marine biologists from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries removed a harness attached to it. The harness featured a mount suitable for an action camera and had the words “Equipment St Petersburg” imprinted on its plastic clasps. Given its apparent familiarity with humans, the directorate suggested that Hvaldimir may have escaped from an enclosure and could have been trained by the Russian navy. However, there was no official response from Moscow regarding the speculations of the whale being a “Russian spy”.
The Barents Sea, where the whale was found, holds strategic importance as a geopolitical area where both Western and Russian submarine activities are monitored. It also serves as the gateway to the Northern Sea Route, which provides a shorter maritime route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Strand stated that the whale has been in good health in recent years, feeding on wild fish under Norway’s salmon farms. However, there are concerns about Hvaldimir’s ability to find food in Sweden, as some weight loss has already been observed.
Beluga whales, known for their potential size of up to six meters (20 feet) and lifespan of 40 to 60 years, primarily inhabit the icy waters surrounding Greenland, northern Norway, and Russia.