Monday 6 May 2019

'Russian spy whale': the disturbing history of military marine mammals

APRIL 30, 2019
by Gervase Phillips, The Conversation
Norwegian fishermen were reportedly approached by a beluga whale wearing a Russian harness, complete with GoPro camera holder, sparking speculation that the animal had been trained to gather intelligence by the Russian Navy. While this theory has not been confirmed, it is entirely plausible: armed forces around the world have a long and disturbing history of exploiting marine mammals.
In the late 19th century, European militaries had come to appreciate that thoroughly-trained and well-handled dogs could perform useful military services, such as finding wounded soldiers on the battlefield and guarding military installations and outposts. Over the course of the 20th century, new roles were found for them: notably, detecting mines and explosives during World War II.
Given the success achieved with dogs, it was perhaps inevitable that experiments would begin with other intelligent and trainable animals, including marine mammals. The earliest of these experiments took place during World War I, when Britain's Royal Navy unsuccessfully attempted to train sea lions to locate German submarines.
The early training – conducted at a facility on Lake Bala in Gwynedd, Wales – went well. But once the sea lions were released into the open sea, they were generally found to be more interested in pursuing shoals of fish than U-boats – much to the frustration of the officers involved.

APRIL 30, 2019
Enigmatic Beluga whale off Norway so tame people can pet it
by Jan M. Olsen
A beluga whale found in Arctic Norway wearing a harness that suggests links to a military facility in Russia is so tame that residents can pet the mammal on its nose.
The white whale found frolicking in the frigid harbor of Tufjord, a hamlet near Norway's northernmost point, has become "a huge attraction" for locals, one resident said Tuesday. The whale is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock and retrieves plastic rings thrown into the sea.
"The whale is so tame that when you call it, it comes to you," said Linn Saether, adding the whale also reacts to yells and when humans splash their hands in the water.
She said when she throws out a plastic ring, the Beluga whale brings it back to her as she sits on the dock.
"It is a fantastic experience, but we also see it as a tragedy. We can see that it has been trained to bring back stuff that is thrown at sea," Saether, 37, told The Associated Press.
The whale was found with a tight harness reading "Equipment St. Petersburg" in English. The hamlet has a dozen permanent residents and less than 100 people in the warmer season.

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