Joachim Larssen was paddling in the harbor of Hammerfest in Norway in 2019 when he encountered an inquisitive beluga whale. After a few moments, the beluga whale stole Larssen’s GoPro camera, which fell to the bottom of the harbor. The beluga retrieved it and returned it to Larssen.
A Spy Whale Compromised
There is much more to the story than a quirky encounter captured on camera though. When the whale first arrived in the harbor, he was wearing what appeared to be a strap for a camera mount with the words “Equipment St. Petersburg.” With this telling apparel, and his comfortable behavior around humans, many believe the beluga may be a Russian-trained spy whale. The beluga was dubbed with a playful name fitting of the theory, blending the Norwegian word for whale and the name of the Russian president to form, Hvaldimir.
Hvaldi, as he is also affectionately referred to, spent some time in the harbor following his arrival to the bemusement of locals before moving along. He has traveled the Norwegian coast in the years since the GoPro encounter. And as recently as May 2023, Hvaldimir resurfaced in the waters of Sweden.
Whale conservationists believe Hvaldimir is at risk. His comfort around humans has led to injuries from boat propellers and fish hooks. He has a knack for picking up intriguing foreign items with his mouth. And in Sweden, it’s said the fish stocks are lower than in Norway, and they worry whether the whale has an adequate diet.
“He is a friendly, tamed, displaced, formerly captive whale who relies on humans for social interaction,” OneWhale, a nonprofit established to protect Hvaldimir, told NPR. “Belugas are highly social whales and he has been living all alone the past four years.”
For now, Hvladimir continues to roam the seas, but for his welfare, OneWhale has a long-term vision to create a 500-acre marine reserve in northern Norway where Hvladmir can be rehabilitated. The hope is that the reserve will carry them to the goal of releasing the former spy whale into a population of wild belugas, free of his life of espionage and sea kayakers’ rough POV edits.