Alleged Russian Spy Whale Turns Up in a New Country

Hvaldimir, first spotted off of Norway 4 years ago, is now in Swedish waters
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2023 7:31 AM CDT

In 2019, when a white beluga whale showed up off of Norway, experts suspected it was a spy whale that had defected from the Russian military. Scientists also feared the creature wouldn't be able to survive very long on its own after a lifetime in captivity—but now, four years later, the whale has not only survived but also made its way to a new Scandinavian country: Sweden. Per the Washington Post, the whale, since named Hvaldimir—a combo of "hval," which means "whale" in Norwegian, and the popular Russian name Vladimir—has spent a "few years bumming around the Norwegian coast," most recently turning up last week in the Oslo Fjord, near the populous capital city.

That sighting worried Norway's Directorate of Fisheries, which quickly issued an advisory to help keep Hvaldimir safe. "The risk that the whale may be injured due to human contact has ... become significantly greater," the advisory notes, asking locals to leave it alone—especially people in boats, who should "keep a good distance to avoid the whale being injured or, in the worst case, killed by boat traffic." Then, on Sunday, the whale was seen near Hunnebostrand, in southwestern Sweden, reports the Guardian. Experts have a couple of theories on what has spurred Hvaldimir to seek out more populated areas, including the whale's urge to find a mate.

Hvaldimir, believed to be around 13 or 14 years old, is "at an age where his hormones are very high," marine biologist Sebastian Strand of OneWhale, a nonprofit "created expressly for protecting the health and welfare of Hvaldimir," tells the Guardian. "Or it could be loneliness, as belugas are a very social species." It's believed Hvaldimir hasn't seen another beluga since he showed up in Scandinavian waters four years ago. Despite researchers' initial worries that Hvaldimir wouldn't be able to fend for himself on his own, he appears to be in "very good" health, per Strand, who notes the whale has been foraging for fish near Norway's wild salmon farms.

story continues below

The food supply near Sweden isn't as ample, however, and Strand says they've already noticed Hvaldimir dropping some pounds. The current debate centers on whether to capture him to keep him safe or allow him to continue to roam free. "Everyone has the best intentions for him," wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta tells the Post. Russia, meanwhile, has never officially acknowledged Hvaldimir's espionage background, despite directorate suspicions he'd been trained to spy by the Russian navy. (More whale stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.