Near 2019, a Norwegian fisherman discovered a weirdly acting beluga whale in Hammerfest. The beluga whale was drawn to humans and appeared far from its normal home in the Arctic. It was also carrying a harness with a camera mount branded “Equipment of St. Petersburg.”
However, it is unknown how this particular beluga landed up in Norway.
A Norwegian whale (hval) and a Russian president (Vladimir) inspired the beluga’s name. He became a local celebrity and still lives in Hammerfest. Unlike most of his type, Hvaldimir enjoys being petted, fed, and taking pictures with humans and other animals.
To pat him, a bystander’s phone slid out of her pocket and into the sea. Hvaldimir re-entered the water, emerging seconds later with the phone. His mouth expands when he retrieves the phone as if anticipating a reward in return.
You may assume it’s a fluke, but he has returned other missing stuff. He returns a GoPro camera to its owner in this video while still recording.
The Russian government disputes that Hvaldimir was formerly one of Russia’s experimental spy whales. According to The Washington Post, the Russian Defense Ministry denies any such program exists, despite placing an ad in 2016 seeking three male and two female bottlenose dolphins for a total of $24,000.
Moreover, Hvaldimir was not the first Russian-trained beluga to escape. A violent storm in September 1991 blew a breach in the fence and net perimeter of the Russian military facility in Sevastopol, Crimea. Tichka, the beluga whale, fled the base and ended up at a port in Gerze, Turkey. He was a tame whale who approached humans for fish and a pat on the head. He could also catch balls and do other things.
Tichka, like Hvaldimir, became a local celebrity and was dubbed Aydin (brightness in Turkish).
The whale’s most peculiar characteristic was that his teeth were flattened. Our guess was they had filed its teeth so it could take a large thing in its mouth, like a magnetic mine, and put it to the hull of an enemy ship. – Pierre Béland, a marine biologist at Montreal’s St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology, was asked by the Turkish Ministry of Environment for advice on Tichka’s case.
Although not everyone agreed, the Turkish government eventually authorized the Russian force to recover Tichka. This was opposed by the whole population of Gerze and numerous Turkish individuals, who rallied to leave the whale alone and offer him sanctuary. In April 1992, a Russian crew grabbed the whale and returned him to Russia. Tichka’s luck didn’t run out after his arrest; later that year, another heavy rainstorm cleared the way for Turkey’s beloved beluga whale to return to Gerze’s port, much to the surprise of the inhabitants. The ex-military beluga spent his spring with divers who fed him and tourists who came to see him.
In July 1993, he appeared at a municipal fair but vanished the following morning. No one has heard of the beluga since then, except his tales.
Sadly, trained marine creatures that crave human connection face threats from boat propellers, fishing nets, and tourists. They may also struggle to survive in nature since they have never had to seek food. Catching and training marine animals is not a good idea for numerous reasons. Extreme stress, neurotic behavior, and excessive hostility are common in captive marine animals. They are also deprived of their natural surroundings and endure severe temperatures of unknown waters.
In addition to causing stress to the fish, Hvaldimir’s sudden celebrity has spawned an uncontrolled tourism economy around him. The most recent injury he had was from a boat propeller.
People who believed it was necessary to save the animal started OneWhale, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a secure home for the juvenile whale and other rescued beluga whales. They have spent their lives in manufactured fish tanks.