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Beluga Whale Found In Norway May Be A Russian Spy

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Recently, a couple of Norwegian fishermen encountered a friendly beluga whale wearing a harness around it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

But this beluga seemed like it was straight out of a scene from Austin Powers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY")

MIKE MYERS: (As Dr. Evil) Mr. Powers, you'll notice that all of the sharks have laser beams attached to their heads. I figure every creature deserves a warm meal.

CHANG: No. This beluga didn't have a laser beam attached to it, but its harness was inscribed with equipment of St. Petersburg.

CORNISH: Which has led to mass speculation about its origins. Why was it wearing a harness? Is it a Russian spy?

CHANG: This wouldn't be the first time a marine mammal has been trained to be used as a foreign agent. Patrick Ramage is director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

PATRICK RAMAGE: Well, since at least the 1960s, the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world have incorporated marine mammals into some aspects of defense and military activities. And whether that's something as simple as surveillance and patrolling a certain area, keeping an eye out for intruders, foreign divers, vessels that don't belong there.

CORNISH: Ramage says he and his friends have dubbed this whale Boris the beluga.

CHANG: And Boris just might be the friendliest spy ever, although we don't know his motives.

RAMAGE: On some of the video I've seen, the Norwegian fishermen promptly offered him some fish, or just through their natural curiosity, for which belugas are well known around the world, is entirely speculative, as is the nature of his mission.

CORNISH: And when asked which underwater mammals he'd want in a squad of spies, Ramage says he'd go with...

RAMAGE: Bottlenose dolphins probably right up there. Sea lions by the U.S. Navy have been particularly receptive to training. Beluga whales' communication skills have been extensively studied by Russian scientists.

CHANG: Good news is that the Norwegian fishermen were able to take Boris the beluga's harness off, and the curious whale swam away.

RAMAGE: It seems to have had a happy ending for Boris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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