Hvaldimir is a male beluga whale that fishermen near Hammerfest in northern Norway noticed in April 2019 wearing a camera harness; after being freed from the harness, the whale remained in the area and appeared used to humans. Speculation that he had been trained by Russia as a spy whale led to his being dubbed Hvaldimir, a pun on the Norwegian hval (whale) and Vladimir Putin.
Appearances and reactions
The whale appeared beginning on 26 April 2019 north of Hammerfest, off the island of Ingøya and near the village of Tufjord on the island of Rolvsøya, wearing a tight-fitting camera harness labelled "Equipment St. Petersburg", and rubbing against boats in apparent attempts to free himself. Animal rescue staff and the fishermen worked to free him from the harness, a fisher named Joar Hesten finally putting on a survival suit and jumping over the side of the boat to loosen the buckles. The whale continued to return to the boats for several days, asking for food and playing fetch, and has shown himself to be very tame, coming when called and liking to be scratched around the blowhole. He later followed a boat to Hammerfest harbour.
The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the police urged the public not to feed the whale and to leave him alone to avoid stressing him. There was concern he might become aggressive or might become too dependent on humans, like Keiko the orca. A proposal was made to place the whale in a sanctuary in Iceland which already houses two belugas from China, but since he seemed to be making efforts to find his own food, the Directorate of Fisheries decided in mid-May not to relocate him. The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research recommended returning him to a facility in Russia if he did not become self-sustaining. However, it became apparent a few days later that the whale was malnourished, and with Hammerfest Municipality taking responsibility, the Directorate of Fisheries agreed that he should be fed, and Norwegian Orca Survey began doing so, although there was hope that the feeding could eventually end. People donated funds to feed him. He was later reported to have been seriously ill, and to have been hooked by an angler and injured. Norwegian Orca Survey were training the whale with hand gestures to lie alongside a boat so that he could be medically treated if necessary.
After attracting crowds of observers, the whale left Hammerfest harbour in July and apparently had learnt to find food; he was observed several times in August near Seiland, an island located between Hammerfest and Alta. He then appeared in early September in the harbour at Alta, where he showed signs of injury from propellers and people were observed throwing things at him and pushing things into his mouth, and later reappeared in Loppa. Regina Crosby, an American film-maker, is working on a documentary about Hvaldimir and in November was seeking to raise $10,000 to relocate him to Svalbard.
Interactions with people
On 4 May 2019, after a day in Hammerfest, two friends went to the docks to look for the whale; 25-year-old Ina Mansika's iPhone fell out of her pocket into the water and the whale brought it back to her. A video posted on Instagram shows her then scratching him under the chin.
In June 2019, he pulled a diver's knife from its scabbard, and played with an underwater drone that was being tested. On 25 September, he was filmed taking a kayaker’s GoPro camera, then retrieving it from the harbour floor to return it to its owner, while earlier that month he was observed playing with a wild herring gull, teasing it into dropping fish it had caught.
Theories and naming
The camera harness and label led to suspicion that the whale had been trained for use in Russian espionage. Both the United States and Russia are known to have military cetacean training programmes, the Russian including belugas. (See also: Military marine mammal.) A Russian marine scientist told a Norwegian colleague that the harness was not of a type used by Russian scientists. A Russian military spokesman, Colonel Viktor Baranets, said in response: "If we were using this animal for spying do you think we would attach a mobile phone number with the message 'please call this number'?", but did not deny that the whale might have escaped from the Russian Navy; the Russian naval base at Murmansk is not far away. The Norwegian Police Security Service is investigating. A Russian naval analyst, Mikhail Barabanov, said he thought the whale was part of a zoological tracking project. In late May satellite photos surfaced reportedly showing pens at the Russian base at Olenya Guba that could accommodate belugas and other cetaceans.
Because of the Russian espionage theory, the newspaper Verdens Gang dubbed the whale Hvaldimir, a play on the first name of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the Norwegian hval, whale; on 3 May the national broadcaster NRK announced that this was the winner of their public vote to name the whale, with "Joar", for the fisherman, polling second and "Agent James Beluga" third.
Morten Vikeby, a former Norwegian consul in Murmansk, has suggested that Hvaldimir is a therapy animal from a programme for disabled children at the Arctic Circle Padi Dive Centre and Lodge, near the Russian–Norwegian border; specifically, he may be Semyon, who was placed with the centre while still young after being attacked by sea lions and was featured in an article Vikeby wrote about the institution in 2008 for the magazine Fiskeribladet. The harness would be for the purpose of towing a boat with children inside. That institution no longer uses therapy belugas, and Vikeby suggests making use of Hvaldimir to advertise Hammerfest.
- Hanne Bernhardsen Nordvåg, "Hva kan du om Hvaldimir?" [What do you know about Hvaldimir?], NRK Finnmark, 31 August 2019 (in Norwegian): "Hvaldimir svømte på rygg med flagget til topps." [Hvaldimir was swimming on his back with his flag flying.]
- "Trodde telefonen var tapt. Så kom 'Hvaldimir' til unnsetning" [She thought the phone was gone. Then 'Hvaldimir' came to the rescue], Dagbladet, 5 May 2019 (in Norwegian; with 2 videos).
- "Russian 'spy whale' may have provided therapy for children", Deutsche Welle, 8 May 2019.
- Nina Berglund, "White whale now named 'Hvaldimir'", News in English.no, 3 May 2019.
- "Russian 'spy whale' makes Norwegian friends", BBC News, 29 April 2019 (video, 46 secs).
- Håvard Hesten, "'Russian spy whale'", BBC News, 29 April 2019 (video, 1 min 33 secs, subtitles).
- "Norway finds 'Russian spy whale' off Arctic coast", BBC News, 29 April 2019 (includes the Hesten video)
- Jon Henley, "'Russian spy' whale has defected to Norway, locals claim", The Guardian, 2 May 2019 (with video, 48 secs).
- Jan Harald Tomassen and Allan Klo, "Vurderer å flytte 'Hvaldimir' til Island" [Considering moving 'Hvaldimir' to Iceland], NRK, 6 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- "Hvithvalen i Hammerfest" [The Beluga whale in Hammerfest], Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, 6 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Finn Irgens Myking, "Ber folk ikke gi hvithval oppmerksomhet" [Asking people not to give beluga attention], P5, 5 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- "Frykter at 'spionhvalen' skal lide samme skjebne som Hollywood-stjerne" [Fears that the 'spy whale' will suffer the same fate as Hollywood star], VG TV (Verdens Gang), 3 May 2019 (video, 2 mins, 55 secs; in Norwegian).
- Øystein Hage, "'Hvaldimir' heter trolig 'Semjon', og er en terapihval. Se video når den leker med barn" ['Hvaldimir' is really called 'Semyon' and is a therapy whale. Watch a video where he is playing with children], Fiskeribladet, 7 May 2019 (in Norwegian; with video ).
- Kristina Kalinina, Erlend Hykkerud and André Bendixen, "'Gåten Hvaldimir' får inntil videre gjøre som han vil" ['Hvaldimir the mystery' to be allowed to go on doing what he wants], NRK Finnmark, 8 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Karin Madshus, "Havforskningsinstituttet anbefaler å fôre 'spionhvalen'" [Marine Research Institute recommends moving the 'spy whale'], Dagbladet, 15 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Boel Holm, TT, "Valen Hvaldimir måste utfodra, s för att inte dö" [Hvaldimir the whale needs to be fed so that he does not die], Hufvudstadsbladet, 18 May 2019 (in Swedish).
- Amos Chapple, "'Hvaldimir,' The 'Russian Spy' Beluga, In Unsure Waters", Radio Free Europe, June 18, 2019.
- Kjell Persen and Karima Elisabeth Magnussen, "Leken 'Hvaldimir': – Han kysset dronen" [Playful 'Hvaldimir': 'He's kissing the drone'], TV2, 7 June 2019 (in Norwegian; with video, 53 secs).
- [Christel-Beate Jorilldatter and Alexandra Kosowski, "Hvaldimir er syk: – Forandringer i oppførselen" [Hvaldimir is sick: 'Changes in behaviour'], iFinnmark, 26 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- "Hvithvalen 'Hvaldimir' overlevde nesten ikke helgen", ['Hvaldimir' the beluga almost did not survive the weekend], NRK, 27 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Amalie Frøystad Nærø, "Fikk 'Hvaldimir' på kroken: – Han var tydelig forbanna" [Got 'Hvaldimir' on the hook: 'He was clearly ticked off'], Verdens Gang, 31 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- NTB, "Hvaldimir fikk flenge i magen i møte med fiskekrok" [Hvaldimir gashed in stomach in encounter with fish-hook], ABC Nyheter, 1 June 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Christian Kråkenes, "Hvaldimir har lært seg å fange mat selv " [Hvaldimir has taught himself to catch his own food], NRK, 28 August 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Erlend Hykkerud, "Hvaldimir er syk og har fått skader: – Flere har kastet planker og andre ting etter ham" [Hvaldimir is sick and has received injuries: 'Many people have thrown planks and other things at him'], NRK, 12 September 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Jan Harald Tomassen, "Amerikaner mener Hvaldimir må flyttes fra Finnmark" [American thinks Hvaldimir needs to be removed from Finnmark], NRK Finnmark, 18 November 2019, updated 19 November 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Mike Moffitt, "See the alleged Russian spy whale retrieve woman's dropped iPhone", San Francisco Chronicle, 8 May 2019 (with 2 videos).
- "Jenta mister mobilen ned i havet: Da kommer vesenet opp fra dypet og alle innser det ufattelige" [Girl drops her cellphone in the sea: Then the creature comes up out of the depths and everybody witnesses the unbelievable], Newsner, 6 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Feinn, Lily (2019-09-25). "Friendly Beluga Returns Dropped GoPro To Owner". The Dodo. Retrieved 2020-03-02.
- "'Spy' Beluga Plays with Seagull". Caters Clips, YouTube. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
- James Felton, "There's Something You Need To Know About That Viral Video Of A Beluga Whale Playing Fetch", IFLScience, 11 November 2019 (with video).
- Jack Guy and Emily Dixon, "'Russian spy' whale shines spotlight on military-grade animals", CNN, 4 May 2019 (with video).
- Caroline Enge and Jan Gunnar Furuly, "Derfor bruker stormaktene hvaler og delfiner i militæret" [What the great powers use whales and dolphins for in the armed forces], Aftenposten, 28 April 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Hanne Bernhardsen Nordvåg and Kristina Kalinina, "Hvalforsker: – Putin har vært direkte involvert i opptrening av hvaler" [Whale researcher: 'Putin has been directly involved in training whales'], NRK, 3 May 2019, updated 6 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Jo Hermstad Tronsen, Kristina Kalinina and Erlend Hykkerud, "Nye satellittbilder kan avsløre hvor 'Hvaldimir' kommer fra" [New satellite images may reveal where 'Hvaldimir' comes from], NRK, 29 May 2019, updated 31 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Hanne Bernhardsen Nordvåg, "Folket har talt – hvalen skal hete Hvaldimir" [The people have spoken - the whale shall be called Hvaldimir], NRK, 3 May 2019, updated 6 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- "Den russiske 'spionhvalen' er trolig en terapihval" [The Russian 'spy whale' is really a therapy whale], NRK, 7 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- "- Hammerfest må bruke hvalen" ["Hammerfest must use the whale"], Fiskeribladet, 8 May 2019 (in Norwegian).
- Hvaldimir Foundation, Norwegian Orca Survey