Evidence suggests that the Russian Navy has been looking for new ways to leverage what amounts to the original underwater “drone”—militarized cetaceans. Norwegian fishermen discovered a friendly beluga whale in the Barents Sea off the northeast coast of Norway on April 25. Belugas are native to the Barents, so the whale’s presence wasn’t the surprise—the surprise was that it was fitted with a camera harness with Russian markings.

The beluga kept approaching fishing boats and rubbing against them in an apparent effort to remove the harness. After failed attempts to remove the harness themselves, fishermen sent photos to a marine biologist with Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries, and they reported that the whale was in distress. A Fisheries boat was in the area and responded, as reported by a Directorate of Fisheries spokesperson on Facebook:

The Directorate of Fisheries’ oversight boat Rind was in the area and was asked to assist to release the whale for the tight straps. The crew of the Marine Service are trained to free whales from ropes and fishing gear. After a little lure with cod fillets, and with the fisherman Joar Hesten getting into the water wearing a survival suit, the inspectors Jørgen Ree Wiig and Yngve Larsen from the Marine Service and the Horse managed to release the whale…

The whale has probably escaped from Russia where it may have been trained to perform different missions such as underwater photography.

Video from Norwegian television of an attempt to remove the harness on a beluga.

The harness was reportedly marked with the label “Equipment St. Petersburg” and had an attachment point for a GoPro camera. Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø (UiT), told Norway’s VG that neither Norwegian nor Russian academic researchers put harnesses on whales. “I have been in contact with some Russian researchers,” Rikardsen said. “They can confirm that it is nothing they are doing. They tell me that most likely is the Russian Navy in Murmansk.”

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