Norwegian fishermen discovered a beluga whale affixed with Russian gear last week, sparking fears that the Kremlin is further weaponizing sea mammals to assist in its naval operations.
What are the details?
Last week, a fleet of commercial vessels was "harassed" by a suspected "spy" whale in the waters of Arctic Norway, The Washington Post reported. The animal repeatedly nudged up against the boats, when one crew noticed the beluga was wearing a tight harness.
A team from Norway's Directorate of Fisheries — trained to release sea animals from netting and other foreign objects — responded to the scene and helped a local fisherman free the whale. According to the Daily Mail, the harness was branded with a logo which read, "equipment of St. Petersburg," and had a camera mount.
Martin Biuw of Norway's Institute of Marine Research reportedly told local outlet NRK, "If this whale comes from Russia — and there is great reason to believe it — then it is not Russian scientists, but rather the navy that has done this."
The Guardian reported that in 2017, state-owned Russian media outlet TV Zvedzda revealed the Kremlin paid for research and training to measure the effectiveness of beluga whales, seals, and dolphins for military purposes. The navy wanted to determine whether the whales, in particular, could be used to "guard entrances to naval bases" and "assist deepwater divers and if necessary kill any strangers who enter their territory."
But researchers reportedly discovered dolphins and sea lions made better weapons than beluga whales.
According to the Mirror, Russia President Vladimir Putin has bolstered his fleet of operatives from the animal kingdom in recent years. In 2014, Russian military commanders boasted of taking control of Ukraine's "13 highly-trained military dolphins and sea lions it claimed were trained to hunt underwater mines, attack enemy divers with special knives and pistols attached to their heads, and plant bombs on boats."
Russia shares a 120-mile border with NATO ally Norway, and in the past three years has stepped up what CBS News called the Kremlin's "mounting belligerence in the region."
In regard to the beluga discovered last week, CBS reported, "If what the Norwegian fishermen found is evidence of a current program by Russia's military, the Norwegians and their NATO partners might need to start looking for much smaller weapons of war, too — weapons with flippers."