Cloak & daggerSuspected Russian spy whale may have been a therapy whale

Published 7 May 2019

The docile beluga whale which appeared in Norwegian waters may have previously served as a child therapy animal in Russia. There had been speculation in the media and in military circles that the harness-wearing whale was a Russian navy spy.

The docile beluga whale which appeared in Norwegian waters may have previously served as a child therapy animal in Russia, according to Fiskeribladet. There had been speculation in the media that the whale was a Russian navy spy.

The mysterious harness-wearing whale approached Norwegian fishing boats last week. It could belong to a Russian diving center, Norway’s Fiskeribladet reported on Tuesday.

SFGate reports that the fishermen spotted the 13-foot Beluga whale in Arctic waters. They reported the animal was rubbing itself against the boats in an apparent attempt to remove the harness strapped around its body. Eventually, one fisherman jumped into the water and took the item off the placid whale. Inspecting the harness, the Norwegians discovered it had a mounting point for a camera and was marked “Equipment St. Petersburg” in English.

Norwegian military subsequently showed interest in the whale and its harness, with experts speculating the animal had been trained by the Russian navy for naval reconnaissance. The whale itself eventually reached the Norwegian harbor of Hammerfest, and is still in the area. He is comfortable around people and even allows himself to be petted.

According to Fiskeribladet, the animal’s docile and tame behavior is not the result of military training, but rather the result of working with children. One of the newspaper former journalists says the whale shows a strong resemblance to Semyon, a therapy whale kept by a dive center in northern Russia.

I recognized him from a story we had made,” former Fiskeribladet reporter Morten Vikeby told the paper, while also pointing to a video featuring Semyon playing with children.

It was wearing a harness because it was used to dragging boats with children on board,” the reporter added. “This is the reason why he is so social.”

The journalist stressed, however, that he could not guarantee it was the same animal.

A 2008 video made by a local TV station in Russia shows Semyon doing tricks and playing with children. According to the video’s narrator, the whale had been attacked by sea lions several years prior, while he was still a calf. He was then saved by humans and left with the diving center staff on the outskirts of the Murmansk region. The staff used Semyon as a therapy animal to help schoolchildren, some of them with special needs, to reconnect with nature.

An inspector with Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, Jorgen Ree Wiig, said the latest news about the whale was “amazing.”

We have been thinking of espionage and war, but it is just a whale who wants to be kind to people,” Wiig told Fiskeribladet. “It is even used to cuddling with us.”

The Directorate of Fisheries says that, to the best of their knowledge, the dive center did not report a missing a whale.