A beluga whale that defected from Russia’s naval army in 2019 may have found a new home in Norway.
The 2,700-pound whale, nicknamed Hvaldimir, was believed to have been conducting military operations for Putin after locals found it wearing a harness that read “Team St. Petersburg” as it slowly followed ships.
Hvaldimir appeared off the coast of Sweden last May and marine biologists are now trying to integrate it into nature.
The OneWhale team hopes to introduce Hvaldimir to a group of 500 to 600 beluga whales living in the Arctic waters that will be his forever home.
The Russian spy whale, Hvaldimir, escaped from St. Petersburg, Russia, before crossing the ocean to Norway, then Sweden and has now found a new home.
OneWhale has attempted to work with the Norwegian government to integrate Hvaldimir into a nearby capsule and has just received the necessary support to move forward.
Russia has a long history of training dolphins for its war efforts, but marine biologists believe it has added whales to its arsenal.
Inge Wegge, Norwegian advisor to OneWhale, told Dailymail.com: “It started to become clearer how Russia was using these animals and that Hvaldimir had escaped just in time.”
Russia has never issued a formal response to Hvaldimir’s escape or to accusations that its military is using beluga whales for its war efforts.
However, Russian reserve colonel Viktor Baranets said in a 2019 broadcast: “If we used this animal to spy, do you really think we would attach a mobile phone number with the message ‘Please call this number?’
When Hvaldimir first appeared in Arctic Norway in 2019, locals were warned to stay away from the suspected marine spy.
Marine biologists from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries responded to the scene and removed the whale’s man-made harness.
In an apparent reveal, the harness clips read “Team St. Petersburg,” adding to the theory that he was trained by the Russian navy.
Hvaldimir was sighted off the coast of Norway in 2019. The whale would still be close to the ships.
Marine biologists believed that Hvaldimir did not encounter a single beluga whale during his travels.
The harness had a mount suitable for an action camera and the words “Team St. Petersburg” printed on the plastic closures.
Directorate officials said Hvaldimir may have escaped from an enclosure and been trained by the Russian navy, as he appeared to be accustomed to humans.
The whale then spent more than three years moving slowly along the upper half of the Norwegian coast, before suddenly accelerating in recent months to cover the second half and reach Sweden.
Hvaldimir baffled scientists when he turned up in Sweden, saying they did not believe the beluga whale had encountered another beluga whale since it escaped from Russia.
Researchers said it was plausible that the whale could have been looking for a mate.
The OneWhale team hopes to introduce Hvaldimir to a group of 500 to 600 wild beluga whales that live in Arctic waters.
Hvaldimir is estimated to be between 12 and 20 years old and weighs 2,700 pounds.
Regina Crosby Haug, who founded the nonprofit OneWhale, said Hvaldimir’s escape into the wild could have been a death sentence, but she and her team stayed with him to make sure he survived.
“After years of efforts… they (the Norwegian government) supported Hvaldimir,” he said.
‘They came to the table and since then we have been working on a real and sustainable solution.
“Norway showed us and the world that they want Hvaldimir to live a long, natural life in the wild.”
Marine biologists believe the whale is between 12 and 20 years old, but it is very difficult to determine the precise age of a beluga due to its diverse aging patterns and varied growth and development.
The whales there are known to live in close-knit family groups and share and teach languages to each other.
The pack also exhibits highly social behavior that should give Hvaldimir “a very high chance of integrating and living a life with his species,” Victoria told Dailymail.com.