A beluga whale with a peculiar harness spotted off of Norway's northern coast has led to speculation it may be a Russian military asset.
The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said "Equipment St Petersburg" was written on the harness strap, which featured a mount for an action camera.
Spokesman Joergen Ree Wiig said fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around.
The white beluga whale was sighted last week in waters near the Norwegian village of Inga.
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.
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Mr Ree Wiig said "people in Norway's military have shown great interest" in the harness.
Russia's Northern Fleet is stationed in Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula on the coast of the Barents Sea in the far northwest of Russian Federation.
"I wouldn't say the [whale's] behavior is normal, even though whales from time to time are curious and friendly", Martin Biuw, of the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, told the AP. The Beluga then swam away.
Audun Rikardsen, an arctic and marine biology professor at the department of arctic the Arctic University of Norway, also spoke to the Norwegian national broadcaster Russian Navy keeping whales in captivity. "Then there were a round of cheers in the light boat when we got the first [clip off]", he added.
Experts said the animal's odd behaviour around the boats, along with its harness, have given them cause to believe it must have been trained by the Russian navy.
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"A Russian colleague said they don't do such experiments, but she knows the navy has caught belugas for some years and trained them - most likely it's related to that", he said.
The Guardian said the Cold War-era Soviet Union had a program to train dolphins to help detect underwater weapons and alert their military trainers.
The newspaper says public Russian government records show the defense ministry spent about $25,000 purchasing five bottle-nosed dolphins in 2016 from a sealife center in Moscow.
Russian Federation has a past with training marine wildlife with a military objective.
"All I know is that both Russian and US military have had active marine mammal programs in the past, but I have no detailed knowledge".
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