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Beluga whale wearing Russian harness raises alarm in Norway

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The whale was found with a tight harness.
The whale was found with a tight harness. -
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Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norway Directorate of Fisheries
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A beluga whale found with a tight harness that appeared to be Russian-made has raised the alarm of Norwegian officials and prompted speculation that the animal may have escaped from a Russian military facility.

Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries says "Equipment St. Petersburg" is written on the harness strap, which features a mount for an action camera.

He said fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around. On Friday, fisherman Joar Hesten, aided by Ree Wiig, jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.

Ree Wiig said "people in Norway's military have shown great interest" in the harness.

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, believes "it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk" is involved. Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.

Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norway Directorate of Fisheries
Officials were able to remove the strap.Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norway Directorate of Fisheries

Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and said they have not reported any program or experiments using beluga whales.

"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 doing fine."

Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself against his boat when he first spotted it.

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