In Sweden, a beluga whale, named Hvaldimir, and suspected of being a spy for Russia due to the camera harness attached to the marine mammal's body, returned to swim along the country's coasts. According to the competent Norwegian authorities, the male whale, nicknamed Hvaldimir, would have escaped from an enclosure and probably trained by the Russian Navy as it seems accustomed to contact with humans.
The closest population of belugas is found in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. The Barents Sea, south of Svalbard, is a strategic geopolitical area where the movements of Western and Russian submarines are monitored.
It is also the gateway to the Northern Sea Route, which shortens sea travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For the past 3 years, it had been observed moving up and down between the northern region of Finnmark and the southern part of Norway, but then it mysteriously accelerated its run to reach Sweden.
Norwegian marine biologists had removed the suspected harness with a mount suitable for an action camera and the words Equipment St Petersburg emblazoned on the plastic clips. Moscow has never given an official response to Norway's speculation about whether the whale is a Russian spy or not.
Marine biologists wonder why the beluga whale, from an estimated age of 13 to 14 years, has accelerated its run so much, moving away from its natural habitat.
Watch to find out how Hvaldimir, the "Russian spy whale" is doing after months of observation by the Norwegian Orca Survey in partnership with SeaWorld.
About the Beluga
The beluga inhabits a discontinuous zone between 50° N and 80° N, particularly along the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia.
The southernmost populations are found along the estuary of the St. Lawrence River and the Saguenay River, in Québec, as far as the Atlantic, while the Amur River, the Šantar Islands and the waters surrounding Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Okhotsk represent the southernmost areas of the Pacific Ocean where these animals can be found.
As spring arrives, belugas move to shallow inlets such as bays and river estuaries, where they will spend the summer. These sites are discontinuous. A mother usually returns to the same place year after year. As the summer areas begin to ice over with the arrival of autumn, the belugas move in search of more suitable places to spend the winter.
Most of them travel in the direction of the pack's movement, staying on its edge during the winter. Others instead remain under the pack, surviving thanks to cracks in the ice from which to emerge to breathe. Belugas are also capable of finding pockets of air trapped under the ice.
The ability of these animals to find small ice-free spaces in the midst of the dense and thick pack that can cover up to 96% of the surface remains a mystery to scientists. It has been suggested that belugas use echolocation, a tool adapted to life under the ice, to find the cracks in the pack necessary for breathing.
The beluga population currently existing in the wild is estimated at around 100,000 specimens. Although this number is much higher than the number of specimens of other cetaceans, it has decreased compared to the period before the hunting of these animals began.
There are believed to be 40,000 individuals in the Beaufort Sea, 25,045 in Hudson Bay, 18,500 in the Bering Sea and 28,000 in the Canadian Arctic. The population in the San Lorenzo estuary is estimated at around 1,000 specimens.
The beluga is considered a good indicator of the health of the environment due to its long life, being at the top of the food chain, the large amounts of fat it stores in its body and the relatively large number of specimens still existing in nature, which also made it possible to study it quite thoroughly.
Disturbance caused by human activity poses an additional threat. While some populations are tolerant of small boats, others actively try to avoid boats. Whale watching has become a popular activity in the St. Lawrence and Churchill River areas.