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Norway says beluga whale with apparent Russian-made harness swims to Sweden

Norway says beluga whale with apparent Russian-made harness swims to Sweden

A beluga whale which was first spotted in Arctic Norway four years ago with an apparent Russian-made harness and alleged to have come from a Russian military facility, has been seen off Sweden’s coast about 1,250 miles to the south, Norwegian authorities have said.

Olav Lekve of the Norwegian directorate of fisheries said on Tuesday “During the last few weeks, it has moved quickly and swam several hundred kilometres” before reaching waters off Sweden’s west coast,

He said it has been reported off Lysekill, north of Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city.

There was no immediate comment from Swedish authorities.

Last week the white whale was spotted in the inner Oslo fjord, where the directorate urged people to avoid contact with it to ensure its safety and wellbeing.

Whale-watchers in Norway have named it Hvaldimir, combining the Norwegian word for whale, hval, and the Russian first name Vladimir.

The directorate said there was a risk of injury for Hvaldimir when more recreational boats than usual gathered in the fjord as people tried to catch a glimpse of a huge US aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which briefly visited the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

“We have not received any reports from the inner Oslo fjord that give cause for concern,” Mr Lekve told The Associated Press.

As to its origins, Norwegian authorities “don’t want to speculate on it either”, he added.

Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist with OneWhale, a non-profit organisation created solely for protecting the health and welfare of Hvaldimir, said: “He is a little lonely whale who hopes to find other white whales that he can hang out with.”

“There are few beluga whales along the Norwegian coast and in Sweden. He probably wants to have a family but has swum a little wrong,” he told Swedish broadcaster TV4.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former foreign minister, jokingly suggested to TV4 that Hvaldimir should be granted political asylum in Sweden, saying “it is possible that it is a refugee protesting against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war” in Ukraine.

When in Norwegian waters, the beluga whale was considered a protected wild marine mammal, he said, adding that authorities in Norway have “rejected all inquiries and plans to capture the whale”.

In 2019, the whale was found frolicking in a harbour near Norway’s northernmost point where it became a local attraction.

The whale is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock and retrieves plastic rings thrown into the sea.