Now please tell me that you have all seen the news stories from a few weeks ago about the Russian spy whale? I know I am a bit behind the times on this (and I promise I did actually start a post on this last week, but just never got chance to finish it), but this is possibly one of my most favourite things of this year and it’s important you are all fully aware of it.
The story goes that Norwegian fisherman/scientists who were milling about doing marine-y things in the waters off the coast of Norway were approached by a friendly Beluga whale sporting a very fashionable harness which boldly proclaimed “Equipment St Petersburg” on the front. According to some ‘sources’, the harness boasted mounts for Go-Pro cameras, possible weapons and all other sorts of gadgetry synonymous with nefarious spy-like behaviour. Obviously, various media outlets across the world took this and ran and the world woke up to headlines screaming “Boris the Beluga – Russian Spy”, “Is That Whale a Russian Agent?” and my personal favourite “Russian spy whale has defected to Norway, locals claim” (thank you to The Guardian for that beauty). It has been stressed by numerous researchers involved in reviewing the situation that everything regarding the whale’s intended purpose is “pure speculation” – but I do kind of feel the cat is out the the proverbial now, and we can all say that we’re not confirming anything all we like, but everyone is already on the espionage bandwagon.
Now, one on hand, I want to think the “spy” theory might be slightly farfetched. I mean do you really want your spies going out there with Hello My Name Is badges stating exactly where they came from? If you’re going along that route, you might as well go along the Captain America style of tactics and dress it up in a cape with a big red hammer and sickle emblazoned across the chest. However, if you then look back to the whole Salisbury debacle who even knows what shady Governmental bodies are up to anymore – it’s all gone a bit Monty Python really.
Let’s face it though, it’s not as though involving animals in human warfare is a novelty; there are thousands of stories about horses, pigeons, cats, dogs and even bears being used as mascots, scouts, sniffers and safeguards. And personally, whilst I am against using animals in wars, I can see the tactical benefits they can provide. I mean, just ask Alexander the Great – using elephants on the front line is a perfect way of moving great distances, plowing through battalions and scaring the royal beejesus out of anyone in your way. If I was in a situation requiring of every advantage I could get, I can see why you might want to branch out and try different avenues to ensure your victory.
(Side note – as Woo pointed out during one of my rants at a recent episode of Game of Thrones, my knowledge of tactical and defensive warfare is wholly unexpected, but surprisingly comprehensive. Seriously, ask me about my views on expanding trench systems and the many varied uses for boiling oil. I think it’s mainly because I might be useless at fighting, but I have an overdeveloped sense of danger and compellingly strong survival instinct. That and an early introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s fantasy series “Magician” and the truly memorable selection of conflicts and combat situations described within. (Seriously, for a young impressionable tween, it made a big impact). Put me on a battle field and I’ll be dead in seconds, but give me a castle to defend and that sucker is going to be wrapped up tighter than a Christmas bow. If I’ve got a surplus menagerie of animals just waiting to be training up in combat, you can bet I’m probably going to use them).
More specifically, marine animals being trained by the military isn’t anything new and there are plenty of stories about dolphins, whales and sea lions being utilised to locate enemy mines, guarding naval bases and finding lost equipment using echolocation. From the 1960’s, the great old US of A have been apparently been training dolphins to detect mines and recover inert torpedoes – and there have been figures released from official sources that that sea lions from the Marine Mammal Program (not the catchiest name I think they could have come up with) have been responsible for recovering millions of dollars worth of equipment from the sea floor. From as recently as 2017, the Siberian Times has reported that the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute has trained all sorts of various sea creatures in military roles (fingers crossed for mermaid assassins). So perhaps it isn’t quite a leap to think that Russia have been employing passing beluga’s to keep an eye on things as we thought.
Further research has provided other avenues though and there have been suggestions that rather than being the James Bond of the sea, our friendly neighbour Beluga is in face, a child therapist. In an article from The Guardian, Morten Vikeby, a former Norwegian consul, advised a local paper that the whale was reminiscent not of a spy, but of a previous therapy whale he’s encountered in a diving centre in Russia, who entertained children with mental disabilities. He provided the most fantastic quote:
“The whale has been accused of espionage. I see it as my big purpose to defend him.”
According to this article, this particular beluga is a bit of a local celebrity and can be regularly seen along the coast line, performing tricks and being generally very friendly. He has been christened “Hvaldimir”; a combination of the popular Russian name Vladamir and hval – the Norwegian word for whale. However, the notion that it is something similar to the therapy whale Mr Vikeby previously saw is being posited as unlikely. The dive centre advised that there haven’t been any whales in similar capacities for a few years, and the ones they previously had were never harnessed.
Either way, nobody has yet owned up to having lost him, and working from past experiences, I can’t imagine we’re going to find out anytime soon where is backstory originates from. Still, Hvaldimir appears to be living his best life; enjoying his belted look (which is very on trend at the moment) and making friends all along the coastline of Norway, and I wish him all the best.