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?
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.