Fishermen in Finnmark County have had a series of strange encounters with a white beluga whale. According to them, the animal looked "tame" and seemed to specifically look for the fishing boats outside the island of Ingøy, national broadcaster NRK reported.
"We were going to cast a drag net when we saw a white whale swimming between the boats", fisherman Joar Hesten recalled. "As it approached, we saw it had some sort of harness on it".
According to Hesten, the animal kept approaching other fishermen's boats in an attempt to peel off the straps.
The strange encounter with the tame attention-seeking whale has instantly spurred a theory, inplicating Norway's vast eastern neighbour.
"This is not something any Norwegian scientist has been going on with. What we think is that this may come from Russia", Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø (UiT) told NRK. "We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and also that some of these have apparently been slipping free. Then they often seek out boats".
His colleague Martin Biuw went so far as to suggest that the Russian Navy is behind the whale experiment.
"If this comes from Russia and there is great reason to believe it, then it's not Russian scientists, but rather the Navy that has done this", Martin Biuw said. "This is not a method scientists use, and as far as I know, Russian scientists do not mark white whales this way".
The inside of the harness was marked with "Equipment of St. Petersburg", the newspaper Verdens Gang reported. On the harness there was also a mount for a GoPro camera.
Marine Biologist Jørgen Wiig interpreted this as a sign of the animal fleeing captivity from Russia. He also stressed that the animal was "completely tame" and allowed scientists to pet it.
The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries has published a series of photographs on Facebook, alleging that the whale escaped from Russia where it may have been trained to perform various missions such as underwater photography.
To this a user wryly reacted that Norway should perhaps try and exchange the whale for Norwegian national Frode Berg, who has been sentenced to 14 years for espionage.
Saamuli Haapala of the Finnish Defence Forces was also alarmed by the whale, suggesting that the animal had fled a Russian Navy base close to Murmansk. He added the hashtag "combat whale" to his tweet.
Tromsø läheltä norjalaiset kalastajat vapauttivat maitovalaan valjaista joissa teksti: "Equipment of St. Petersburg". Epäily että karannut Murmanskin laivastotukikohdasta #sotavalas #turpo pic.twitter.com/n9uSNupQYD— Samuli Haapala (@SamuHaa) 27 апреля 2019 г.
The newspaper Dagbladet went so far as to call the animal a "Russian military whale".
The beluga whale is an Arctic and sub-Arctic species and a close relative of the narwhal. It is also known as the white whale, for being the only marine mammal of this colour, and the sea canary, for its high-pitched calls.
The beluga whale's body size is between that of a dolphin's and a true whale's, with males growing up to 5.5 m long and weighing up to 1,600 kg.
Belugas are one of the whale species most commonly kept in captivity and are housed in aquariums, dolphinariums, and wildlife parks across the globe. They are popular with the public due to their colour and expressions.