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Beluga Whale Playing Fetch with Rugby Ball in Viral Video is Actually 'Hvaldimir', the 'Russian Spy'

Hvaldimir Foundation that takes care of the mammal, confirmed that the beluga whale seen playing fetch with the rugby ball was indeed Hvaldimir.

News18.com

Updated:November 13, 2019, 2:38 PM IST
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Beluga Whale Playing Fetch with Rugby Ball in Viral Video is Actually 'Hvaldimir', the 'Russian Spy'
Hvaldimir was first spotted off the Norwegian coast in April | Image credit: Twitter

Remember the video of a beluga whale playing fetch with a rugby ball that recently went viral? Turns out the whale was none other than Hvaldimir, the alleged Russian spy whale that surfaced earlier this year.

Hvaldimir was first spotted by Norwegian fishermen around Hammerfest, the world's northernmost town, in Norway. It was wearing a camera harness at the time with an "Equipment of Saint Petersburg" label, giving rise to speculation that the playful adult whale was actually a trained Russian spy that had somehow escaped the military. The mammal was dubbed 'Hvaldimir' - an amalgamation of 'hyal', the Noregian world for whale, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And now, Hvaldimir Foundation, a non-profit initiative undertaken by the Norwegian Orca Survey, confirmed to Huffpost that the whale playing fetch with the rugby ball was indeed the same one.

After his harness was taken off, Hvaldimir stayed around in the area he was found and often interacted with humans, causing concern among experts. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries requested locals to not feed the animal as it could grow overtly dependent on humans.

After mesmerizing tourists, the whale seemingly left Hammerfest harbour in July. He has since been spotted several times, especially in August.

In the latest video that went viral across the world, Hvaldimir can be seen "playing fetch" with a rugby ball. The the source ofthe video is as yet unconfirmed, many on social media suggested the footage could have been shot in South Africa. Experts such as biologist Jackie Hilderling also dispelled speculation that the video was shot in Antarctica since beluga whales do not inhabit there.

Jackie also noted the the video was filmed on boat sailing in Norwegian waters.

In the video, person on board the boat throws a 2019 Rugby World Cup ball into the water near the whale, with the mammal going on to grab it and bringing it back to the boat.

In fact, the video has become so popular that even the official Twitter handle of the Rugby World Cup shared it, alongside the caption, "A beluga whale playing rugby That's it. That's the tweet.#MyRugbyMoment #RugbyForAll"

The video and subsequent confirmation of the whale's identity has sparked concern, once again, about the whale's well-being. Marine experts and science writers such as Ferris Jabr, who initially identified the whale from the viral video, noted that the whale was still malnourished and had not really learnt to hunt. The "fetching" behaviour that Hvaldimir exhibited is because he was hungry and wanted food from the humans.

This isn't the first time that the mammal has retrieved things dropped by humans from underwater. When in Hammerfest, Hvaldimir is known to have retrieved a tourist's iPhone from the water in May and a divers knife in June. After experts established that the whale was indeed malnourished, Norwegian authorities started making efforts to feed the whale. Some even suggested sending Hvaldimir back to Russia or relocating him to sanctuaries that already have whales such as the one in Iceland.

However, the whale was allowed to roam free after it exhibited signs of learning to hunt. As per the Hvaldimir Foundation, "The ultimate goal and hope was for Hvaldimir to be able to hunt and remain in the wild without any human interaction."

The organisation makes efforts to track the mammal and share updates on Facebookl. In a latest post, they informed that he is demonstrating “a positive trend in weight gain and his attitude and behavior seem to indicate an increased confidence as he navigates the fjords of Norway.”

But what about the Putin connect?

Retired Russian Col. Viktor Baranets, who is a Russian Military expert, spoke to Russian broadcaster Govorit Moskva and said “If we were using this animal for spying do you really think we’d attach a mobile phone number with the message ‘please call this number’?” BBC quoted him as saying.

In fact, in another interview to Reuters, he added that "Russian scientists are using beluga whales for tasks of civil information gathering, rather than military tasks."

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