White whale’s fate subject to debate

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The tame white whale known as Hvaldimir disappeared from his refuge in Hammerfest late last week, only to resurface Sunday near Alta, more than 50 kilometers away. Debate flew during the weekend over whether he should be escorted back to Hammerfest and cared for by researchers and minders, or allowed to chart his own course.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg hand fed Hvaldimir some fish during a visit to Hammerfest last month. Now he’s left the harbour there and debate is flying over whether attempts should be made to bring him back. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Tor Borgersen

Questions are also swirling over how and why Hvaldimir left the harbour in Hammerfest, where he’s been fed and frolicking since he cozied up to a local fishing boat in April. The whale’s origins remain a mystery, but he clearly sought out human contact and remained keen on it even after being freed of straps he was wearing when Norwegian fishermen realized he needed help. It’a widely believed that he escaped from a research facility or marine park in Russia, leading the public to name him Hvaldimir in a playful reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hval is the Norwegian word for whale.

He’s since become a mascot of sorts and attracted international attention as well. He was even hand-fed by Prime Minister Erna Solberg last month, during an official visit she made to Finnmark.

He’s been regularly fed fish by others as well, despite some researchers’ pleas that he learn to fend for himself. He seemed to fall ill last month but recovered and became a tourist attraction in Hammerfest’s harbour, until he suddenly swam away.

One of his supporters suspects he was lured away or scared away by people in boats. He was found in Kårhamn on Saturday, vanished again, and was observed near Altneset ourside Alta Sunday morning.

Plans to lure him back to Hammerfest were bashed Sunday by politician Claus Jørstad of the conservative Progress Party, who equated the plans to “whale-happing.” He thinks Hvaldimir should be left alone: “If you want to keep a whale in captivity, he should rather be sent to a place where he’s safe and cared for,” Jørstad told state broadcaster NRK. “Right now the whale is being used purely for entertainment pirposes without optimal safety.”

Others claim the whale can’t fend for himself and will suffer if not fed. His fate will ultimately be up to local and state officials, if and when Hvaldimir resurfaces again.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund