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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Russian white whale arrived in Oslo Fjord, along with US warship

Norwegians have become fond of a white beluga whale that first surfaced in the far north in 2019 and has been swimming south ever since. Now the friendly whale who’s believed to have been trained by Russians is in the Oslo Fjord, and state officials are worried about him.

A friendly white whale known as Hvaldimir is now reportedly swimming in the Oslo Fjord. State fisheries officials are urging people to keep their distance. PHOTO: Jørgen Ree Wiig / Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries (Sea Surveillance Service)

“Even though the whale is tame and used to being around people, it’s important that folks keep their distance and let him be in peace,” Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen warned on Wednesday. He worries that the whale known as “Hvaldimir” risks being injured by too much human contact.

“We especially urge people in boats to keep their distance, to avoid injuring the whale or risking that the whale could even be killed by boat traffic,” Bakke-Jensen said.

The whale was first spotted in Northern Norway when he started following a fishing boat off Måsøy in April 2019. He quickly became popular with the locals, gladly accepting fish tossed to him and even allowing people to pat his head. It’s believed he was initially trained in Russia for unconfirmed purposes and was quickly named Hvaldimir, because “hval” means whale in Norwegian and he was first found with Russian straps tied to him. Some have suggested the whale was trained for espionage purposes, others for helping children with mental health problems. Russian authorities have never acknowledged association with the whale.

The uncomfortable straps were later removed and Hvaldimir, free to swim on, began a long journey that’s now brought him so far south that whale experts fear he won’t find enough food. The fisheries directorate reported on Wednesday that the whale has had a tendency to linger around fish farming operations where he can hunt fish feeding on excess pellets thrown to captive fish.

Even former Prime Minister Erna Solberg was intrigued by Hvaldimir, and fed him fish here in July 2019, nearly three years before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and relations between Norway and Russia froze. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Tor Borgersen

The whale was spotted off Haugesund and Stavanger earlier this month and then made his way to the southern coast, and north again towards Oslo.

“We have communicated the whole time that this whale is a wild animal and we don’t see any reason to capture it and put it in captivity,” Bakke-Jensen said, referring to some calls for authorities to do just that. “But now that he’s in a more vulnerable area and access to food can be limited, we will evaluate other measures. It’s too early to say anything concrete about that now.”

It’s enough to worry Hvaldimir’s fans, since it was Bakke-Jensen who just last year ordered the highly controversial killing of a friendly and otherwise protected walrus because people ignored warnings to stay away from her. That walrus was named Freya, and her fans recently created a memorial in Oslo to her.

It’s ironic that Hvaldimir’s arrival in the Oslo Fjord was reported by officials on the same day that a huge American aircraft carrier sailed up the fjord as well. Known as the world’s largest warship, its visit is meant to symbolize solidarity among NATO allies and the US’ defense presence in Europe, as Putin’s war on Ukraine drags on.

Bakke-Jensen said he and his staff think the whale will turn around and swim out again when it reaches the end of the Oslo Fjord, not far from where the USS Gerald R Fjord is anchored.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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