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Beluga Whale With Russian Harness Raises Alarm In Norway

A white whale wearing a harness is seen off the coast of northern Norway on April 29.

Norwegian officials say they are concerned that a harnessed beluga whale found in the Arctic Sea may have come from a Russian military facility.

The white whale was wearing a harness -- since removed -- that had "Equipment St. Petersburg" written on it, Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate said on April 29.

He said the harness also had a mount for a camera.

Ree Wiig said fishermen in the Arctic Sea off of Norway reported that the tame beluga came to their boat seeking food.

He added that Norwegian military officials had shown "great interest" in the harness.

Professor Audun Rikardsen from the Arctic University of Norway said he thought the Russian Navy in the nearby city of Murmansk is involved.

"This is a tame animal that is used to get food served, so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen," he said. "The question is now whether it can survive by finding food by itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity are doing fine."

The whale is seen next to a fishing boat off the coast of northern Norway on April 29.
The whale is seen next to a fishing boat off the coast of northern Norway on April 29.

Russia does not have a known history of using whales for military purposes although the U.S.S.R. had a training program for dolphins. The facility in Sevastopol, Crimea, was closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, though it was operated by Ukraine until Russian forces took control of it after seizing Crimea in 2014.

But Dmitry Glazov, deputy head of a beluga-whale program who works at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Interfax on April 19 that the Russian military might be working with belugas.

He said that "the military has these animals" and used them during the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the Black Sea resort city where he said they were still kept.

Glazov said there was an institute in St. Petersburg that works with the military studying animals for "applied purposes" that operates in the Black Sea's Cossack Bay and in Murmansk.

Based on reporting by AP, the BBC, and Interfax