The name’s whale, beluga whale. Or Hvaldimir [Wale-De-Mir], to his chums.
In the last few days, one of the ocean’s biggest viral celebrities has appeared once again on the coast of Sweden. Suspected to be a Russian spy agent – no, it’s not Abba, although that might explain the Eurovision snub – Hvaldimir, a 13-year-old male beluga whale was first spotted on the coast of Norway in 2019 and has made a number of cameos ever since.
The ivory-coloured mammal first aroused suspicion because of a GoPro camera and harness strapped to his underbelly clips bearing the inscription “Equipment of St Petersburg”. If they were going all in with the obvious spy narrative they could have at least made it say “From Russia with love”.
However, Russia denies any involvement, claiming that the country would never make it so obvious the whale was sent out on a reconnaissance mission on their behalf.
In 2019, a Russian reserve colonel, Viktor Baranets, 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’?.” Point taken, but this is the same Russia that claimed a very obvious invasion of Ukraine was a ‘special military operation’ of ‘denazification’.
On a lighter note, for an animal that supposedly belongs to the Western world’s political enemy, Hvaldimir has racked up a legacy of good deeds for locals and sailors alike.
In one appearance, in a display of kindness he rescues a kayaker’s go-pro from the bottom of a harbour and returns it to the owner, he was generous enough not to demand a tip for this either.
In another, he catches a rugby ball thrown to him by some sailors, but unfortunately unlike all other rugby fans, he’s never been seen necking a Guinness (if you see him, DO NOT attempt this).
Whether it was intended or not, Hvaldimir has simultaneously become a suspected Russian spy and a great public relations officer for them, thanks to his good nature. He’s practically a hydrodynamic Rory Stewart.
Perhaps the teenaged beluga has just been fortunate enough to come across doe-eyed animal lovers rather than the USA’s navy seals, at this point, we can’t say we are talking about the human or animal version there.
The whale’s appearance may not be down to something as riveting as espionage, rather he is lonely and is looking for a mate as it is breeding season for belugas as suggested by Sebastian Strand.
Mr Strand said: “It could be hormones driving him to find a mate. Or it could be loneliness, as belugas are a very social species – it could be that he’s searching for other beluga whales.”
No doubt Hvaldimir will find ‘the one’ in due course but in the meantime, we can all be grateful he won’t feature on an awkward David Attenborough documentary, where we all have to watch him bonk Mrs Beluga.