The beluga Hvaldimir, discovered four years ago wearing a strange harness that earned it suspicions of having been used by the Russian navy, is currently on the west coast of Sweden, according to an NGO that tracks its movements.
First spotted in Norwegian Arctic waters in 2019, the name of this white cetacean of several meters comes from a play on words associating the word whale (hval, in Norwegian), and the emblematic Russian name.
After being spotted in recent days in the Oslo fjord, it was observed Sunday further south of the North Sea, in Hunnebostrand, on the Swedish west coast, Sebastian Strand of the organization OneWhale told AFP.
After spending three years slowly descending from northern Norway, he has been heading south in recent months for an unexplained reason. "We don't know why it's moving so fast right now," especially since "it's moving away from its natural environment," the marine biologist said. "It could be the hormones that push him to find a partner. Or loneliness, belugas being very social, he could be looking for others."
Estimated at 13 to 14 years old, "Hvaldimir" was spotted in April 2019 off the coast of the Finnmark Arctic region in Norway's Far North. The biologists who had approached him had managed to remove the harness attached around his head. It was equipped with a stand for a small camera, with the text "Equipment St.Peterburg" printed in English on the plastic strips.
Trained by the Russian Navy
The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries speculated at the time that Hvaldimir had escaped from a pen, and that he had been trained by the Russian navy, as he seemed accustomed to human company and tended to approach ships. Moscow has never officially commented on the speculation.
Belugas traditionally live much further north, near Greenland, or in the waters of the Russian or Norwegian Arctic. The Barents Sea and the North Atlantic are strategic areas for Western and Russian navies, the usual contact area for their submarines.
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According to Sebastian Strand, Hvaldimir appears to be healthy in recent years, feeding on fish attracted to Norway's large farmed salmon farms.
But OneWhale is concerned that he will be able to find food where he is, saying he has already identified signs of weight loss.