Bel­uga plays fetch in the Arc­tic

An on­line video seen world­wide shows one of these whales re­triev­ing a rugby ball. Too good to be true?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - WILD NEWS -

BELUGAS CAN BE PLAY­FUL in cap­tiv­ity – blow­ing bub­bles, for ex­am­ple – but in the wild it’s not nat­u­ral be­hav­iour to re­trieve ob­jects like some sort of gi­ant aquatic dog. So doubts soon sur­faced about this video, though not be­fore it had been viewed mil­lions of times. The bel­uga in the footage, shot anony­mously in Novem­ber in north­ern

Nor­way, is a male called Hvaldimir. He was first spot­ted last April, hav­ing come from a Rus­sian mil­i­tary pro­gramme.

“Maybe Hvaldimir es­caped on a train­ing ex­er­cise,” says Cathy Wil­liamson of Whale and Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion (WDC). “He was tame and lo­cal peo­ple had been feeding him.” Belugas sel­dom breed in cap­tiv­ity, so the Rus­sian navy takes them from the wild. It keeps them in small sea pens be­tween open-water ex­er­cises to carry or search for mines. “Belugas are quite easy to train,” Wil­liamson says.

WDC has en­closed a bay in Ice­land to res­cue belugas from aquar­i­ums and marine parks, but Hvaldimir won’t be join­ing them.

“He seems to be healthy and look­ing af­ter him­self,” says Wil­liamson. “We can’t jus­tify the stress that re­catch­ing him would cause.” Ben Hoare

FIND OUT MORE Read about WDC’s work to free cap­tive whales: uk.whales.org

Hvaldimir, the ball-re­triev­ing bel­uga.

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