White whale now named ‘Hvaldimir’

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Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) declared on Friday that “the public has spoken,” and named a cute white whale that was freed of mysterious harnesses off Finnmark last week Hvaldimir. “Hval” (pronounced “vall”) is the Norwegian word for whale, and the name is also a play on the name of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Introducing ‘Hvaldimir!’ Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that as being the most popular name for the white whale that swam into Norwegian waters last week. PHOTO: Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries (Sea Surveillance Service)

NRK, which had called for name proposals from the public, said that around 25,000 people had voted, and Hvaldimir was the most popular choice. More than 30 percent of those voting opted for the name that national newspaper VG already has been using in its stories about the whale.

Next most popular was Joar, after Joar Hesten, the fisherman who jumped into the chilly Arctic waters in a survival suit to loosen the harness buckles strapped around the whale. In third place was Agent James Beluga, with 11 percent of the votes, since some think the beluga whale was trained for spying purposes.

The whale is widely believed to have escaped from a Russian naval training station in Murmansk, where whales reportedly have been used for special operations, strapped with cameras or even weapons.

Whale now dubbed Hvaldimir was more than comfortable swimming around both the fishing boat that initially spotted him and that of the fisheries directorate. PHOTO: Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries (Sea Surveillance Service)

One Norwegian researcher specializing in whales at the University of Tromsø said Friday that he’s now convinced the whale came from such a training center, probably in Murmansk. “The fact that no one has claimed the whale can be a sign of that,” Professor Audun Rikardsen told NRK. “This story (about the whale) has gone around the world, so it’s known among all aquariums and those working with whales. Those who’ve lost him certainly know that he popped up here. When no one has come forward and said they want him back, it’s a sign that maybe they don’t want so much attention around this.”

Rikardsen said that some Russian researchers deny whales are used by the Russian military, while others have told him that Putin himself was directly involved in whale training. The professor rejects other speculation that the whale may have come from a whale training center in St Petersburg, Florida. “It would have taken three months for the whale to swim (to Northern Norway) if it had come from there, and then the marks from the harness would have been considerably larger,” Rikardsen told NRK.

By Thursday of this week, Hvaldimir was swimming off Norway’s northern city of Hammerfest, where the fisheries’ research vessel was also moored. The fisheries directorate has assumed responsibility for him, to the degree that will be possible. PHOTO: Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries (Sea Surveillance Service)

The harnesses bore buckles with an insignia that’s been linked to a sporting goods supplier in Murmansk. The Russians are believed to run whale- and dolphin-training operations in both Murmansk and Sebastapol on the Black Sea.

Hvaldimir’s harnesses, meanwhile, have been turned over to Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) for examination. “This isn’t everyday material for us,” PST spokesman Martin Bernsen told NRK. “I can’t remember PST ever being involved in a case like this.

He told TV2 that the whale itself is not a suspect and won’t be charged with espionage. PST was keeping tabs on his location, though: “As far as we know, the whale is still swimming somewhere around the coast near Hammerfest.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund