A beluga whale first spotted in April 2019 at Hammerfest in northern Norway wearing a harness marked “Equipment St Petersburg“ has reappeared – in warmer waters off Sweden’s coast.
Believed to have been part of a Russian marine-mammal military programme for several years before his headline-grabbing appearance, he had the harness removed and his progress – mainly around northern Norway – has been tracked ever since by a dedicated nonprofit organisation called OneWhale.
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The beluga its members have called Hvaldimir was known to have started moving south along the Norwegian coast but its progress had accelerated in recent months. The team became concerned for the whale’s safety when he appeared to be making for the Norwegian capital Oslo, with its heavy boat traffic, but he skirted its waters and kept heading rapidly south.
On 28 May he was spotted at Hunnebostrand off Sweden’s south-western coast, and OneWhale’s Team Hvaldimir has been concerned to ensure that he stays safe.
“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,” said OneWhale president Rich German.
“They immediately contacted us upon his arrival, and even closed a bridge to protect him,” said the organisation’s founder Regina Haug.
OneWhale describes Hvaldimir as a “friendly, tamed, displaced, formerly captive whale who relies on humans for social interaction“, and has expressed concern that a highly social mammal should have been living alone for at least four years.
But plans are now underway to move Hvaldimir back to Arctic waters, where OneWhale has partnered with the town of Hammerfest, where he first turned up, to create a Norwegian whale reserve.
When complete, this 200-hectare area would provide a safe haven for the beluga, pending an attempt to release him into a wild beluga population. It would also house other whales released from captivity.