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Sign at Hammerfest Harbour in Norwegian and English warning against interfering with Hvaldimir

Hvaldimir is a beluga whale that fishers 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 it had been trained as a Russian spy led to its being dubbed Hvaldimir, from Norwegian: hval ("whale"), and Vladimir Putin.

Appearance and reactions[edit]

Hvaldimir at Hammerfest Harbour

The whale appeared beginning on 26 April 2019[1] 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 itself.[2] Animal rescue staff and the fishers worked to free it 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.[1][3] The whale continued to return to the boats for several days, asking for food and playing fetch,[4][5][6] and has shown itself to be very tame, coming when called and liking to be scratched around the blowhole.[5][6][7][8] It later followed a boat to the Hammerfest harbour.[7][9]

The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and the police urged the public not to feed the whale[10] and to leave it alone to avoid stressing it. There was concern it might become aggressive[11] or that it would become too dependent on humans, like Keiko the orca.[12] A proposal was made to place it in a sanctuary in Iceland which already houses two belugas from China.[2][9][13] Since Hvaldimir seemed to be making efforts to find its own food, the Directorate of Fisheries decided in mid-May not to relocate it.[14] The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has recommended returning it to a facility in Russia if it does not become self-sustaining.[15] However, it became apparent a few days later that Hvaldimir was malnourished, and with Hammerfest Municipality taking responsibility, the Directorate of Fisheries agreed that the whale should be fed, which is being done by Norwegian Orca Survey,[16] although there are hopes that the feeding can eventually end.[17] People have donated funds to feed him.[18] He was later reported to have been seriously ill,[19][20] and to have been hooked by an angler and injured.[21][22] Norwegian Orca Survey are training the whale with hand gestures to lie beside a boat so that he can be medically treated if necessary.[17]

Incidents with people[edit]

On 4 May, 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 it under the chin.[1][23][24]

In June Hvaldimir pulled a diver's knife from the scabbard[17] and played with an underwater drone that was being tested.[18]

Theories and naming[edit]

The camera harness and label led to suspicion that the whale had been trained for use in Russian espionage.[5][7][8] Both the United States and Russia are known to have military cetacean training programmes,[25][26] the Russian including belugas.[5][6][27] A Russian marine scientist told a Norwegian colleague that the harness was not of a type used by Russian scientists.[6] 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.[5][6] The Norwegian Police Security Service is investigating.[1][7] A Russian naval analyst, Mikhail Barabanov, said he thought it was part of a zoological tracking project.[8] In late May satellite photos surfaced showing pens at the Russian base at Olenya Guba that could accommodate belugas and other cetaceans.[28]

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.[3][29]

Morten Vikeby, a former Norwegian consul in Murmansk, has suggested that Hvaldimir is a therapy animal from a programme for handicapped children at the Arctic Circle Padi Dive Centre and Lodge, near the Russian–Norwegian border;[14][30] specifically, it may be Semyon, who was placed with the centre while still young after being attacked by sealions and was featured in an article Vikeby wrote about the institution in 2008 for the magazine Fiskeribladet.[2][13] The harness would be for the purpose of towing a boat with children inside.[2] That institution no longer uses therapy belugas, and Vikeby suggests making use of Hvaldimir to advertise Hammerfest.[31]


  1. ^ a b c d "Trodde telefonen var tapt. Så kom "Hvaldimir" til unnsetning" [She thought the phone was gone. Then 'Hvaldimir' came to the rescue]. Dagbladet (with 2 videos) (in Norwegian). 5 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Russian 'spy whale' may have provided therapy for children". Deutsche Welle. 8 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Nina Berglund (3 May 2019). "White whale now named 'Hvaldimir'". News in English.no.
  4. ^ "Russian 'spy whale' makes Norwegian friends" (video, 46 secs). BBC News. 29 April 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e Håvard Hesten (29 April 2019). "'Russian spy whale'" (video, 1 min 33 secs, subtitles). BBC News.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Norway finds 'Russian spy whale' off Arctic coast" (includes the Hesten video). 29 April 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Jon Henley (2 May 2019). "'Russian spy' whale has defected to Norway, locals claim". The Guardian (with video, 48 secs).
  8. ^ a b c "Meet the world's friendliest escaped Russian spy whale". Navy Times. 30 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b Jan Harald Tomassen; Allan Klo (6 May 2019). "Vurderer å flytte "Hvaldimir" til Island" [Considering moving 'Hvaldimir' to Iceland] (in Norwegian). NRK.
  10. ^ "Hvithvalen i Hammerfest" [The Beluga whale in Hammerfest] (in Norwegian). Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. 6 May 2019.
  11. ^ Finn Irgens Myking (5 May 2019). "Ber folk ikke gi hvithval oppmerksomhet" [Asking people not to give beluga attention] (in Norwegian). P5.
  12. ^ "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 (video, 2 mins, 55 secs) (in Norwegian). Verdens Gang. 3 May 2019.
  13. ^ a b Øystein Hage (7 May 2019). ""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 (with video) (in Norwegian).
  14. ^ a b Kristina Kalinina; Erlend Hykkerud; André Bendixen (8 May 2019). ""Gåten Hvaldimir" får inntil videre gjøre som han vil" ['Hvaldimir the mystery' to be allowed to go on doing what he wants] (in Norwegian). NRK Finnmark.
  15. ^ Karin Madshus (15 May 2019). "Havforskningsinstituttet anbefaler å fôre "spionhvalen"" [Marine Research Institute recommends moving the 'spy whale']. Dagbladet (in Norwegian).
  16. ^ Boel Holm (18 May 2019). "Valen Hvaldimir måste utfodras för att inte dö" [Hvaldimir the whale needs to be fed so that he does not die]. Hufvudstadsbladet (in Swedish). TT.
  17. ^ a b c Amos Chapple (June 18, 2019). "'Hvaldimir,' The 'Russian Spy' Beluga, In Unsure Waters". Radio Free Europe.
  18. ^ a b Kjell Persen; Karima Elisabeth Magnussen (7 June 2019). "Leken "Hvaldimir": – Han kysset dronen" [Playful 'Hvaldimir': 'He's kissing the drone'] (with video, 53 secs) (in Norwegian). TV2.
  19. ^ Christel-Beate Jorilldatter; Alexandra Kosowski (26 May 2019). "Hvaldimir er syk: – Forandringer i oppførselen" [Hvaldimir is sick: 'Changes in behaviour']. iFinnmark (in Norwegian).
  20. ^ "Hvithvalen "Hvaldimir" overlevde nesten ikke helgen" ['Hvaldimir' the beluga almost did not survive the weekend] (in Norwegian). NRK. 27 May 2019.
  21. ^ Amalie Frøystad Nærø (31 May 2019). "Fikk "Hvaldimir" på kroken: – Han var tydelig forbanna" [Got 'Hvaldimir' on the hook: 'He was clearly ticked off']. Verdens Gang (in Norwegian).
  22. ^ "Hvaldimir fikk flenge i magen i møte med fiskekrok" [Hvaldimir gashed in stomach in encounter with fish-hook] (in Norwegian). ABC Nyheter. NTB. 1 June 2019.
  23. ^ Mike Moffitt (8 May 2019). "See the alleged Russian spy whale retrieve woman's dropped iPhone". San Francisco Chronicle (with 2 videos).
  24. ^ "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 (in Norwegian). 6 May 2019.
  25. ^ Jack Guy; Emily Dixon (4 May 2019). "'Russian spy' whale shines spotlight on military-grade animals" (with video). CNN.
  26. ^ Caroline Enge; Jan Gunnar Furuly (28 April 2019). "Derfor bruker stormaktene hvaler og delfiner i militæret" [What the great powers use whales and dolphins for in the armed forces]. Aftenposten (in Norwegian).
  27. ^ Hanne Bernhardsen Nordvåg; Kristina Kalinina (6 May 2019) [3 May 2019]. "Hvalforsker: – Putin har vært direkte involvert i opptrening av hvaler" [Whale researcher: 'Putin has been directly involved in training whales'] (in Norwegian). NRK.
  28. ^ Jo Hermstad Tronsen; Kristina Kalinina; Erlend Hykkerud (31 May 2019) [29 May 2019]. "Nye satellittbilder kan avsløre hvor "Hvaldimir" kommer fra" [New satellite images may reveal where 'Hvaldimir' comes from] (in Norwegian). NRK.
  29. ^ Hanne Bernhardsen Nordvåg (6 May 2019) [3 May 2019]. "Folket har talt – hvalen skal hete Hvaldimir" [The people have spoken - the whale shall be called Hvaldimir] (in Norwegian). NRK.
  30. ^ "Den russiske "spionhvalen" er trolig en terapihval" [The Russian 'spy whale' is really a therapy whale] (in Norwegian). NRK. 7 May 2019.
  31. ^ "- Hammerfest må bruke hvalen" ['Hammerfest must use the whale']. Fiskeribladet (in Norwegian). 8 May 2019.