Norwegian fishermen discovered a Beluga whale on April 25 fitted with a camera harness, trained by the Russian navy as part of a programme to use underwater mammals as a special ops force, according to a report by The Guardian.
"Russian researchers I’m in touch with confirm that it is nothing they are doing. They tell me that it is most likely the Russian Navy in Murmansk," Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø (UiT), told Norway's VG, the report added.
The whale was discovered in the Barents Sea off the northeast coast of Norway. It kept approaching the fishing boat to rub against them in an apparent effort to remove the harness that was reportedly marked with the label "Equipment St. Petersburg" and had an attachment point for a GoPro camera.
"There is an institute in St. Petersburg that cooperates with the military in studying animals for applied purposes, and it works in the Cossack Bay on the Black Sea and in Murmansk,” Dmitry Glazov, the deputy head of the Beluga program at the AN Severtsov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Interfax News Service.
“The Russian military has been working with beluga whales. But it is not known whether the whales could be used for reconnaissance or intelligence operations,” he added.
In 2000, the BBC reported that dolphins that had been trained to kill enemy swimmers and attach limpet mines to enemy ships by the Soviet navy had been sold to Iran, along with sea lions, walruses, sea lions, seals, and a beluga whale.
Boris Zhurid, a former Soviet submariner who became a dolphin trainer said that four dolphins and the beluga were trained by him to attack divers using harpoons mounted on their backs with a harness, or to grab them with their mouths to drag them to the surface for capture.
“They were also trained as living torpedoes, taught to deliver mines that would explode upon contact with a ship's hull,” he told BBC.
Russia launched its program and it became public in 2017 when the Russian Defense Ministry's Zvezda television network reported that the Russian Navy was working with a private research institute to train belugas and other marine mammals.
The US Navy's Marine Mammal Program uses trained bottlenose dolphins and sea lions for a variety of search and recovery missions. Dolphins have been trained to search for and mark submerged mines, and sea lions are used to connect lines to retrieve sunken equipment in places where it's infeasible to use a human diver.
"Both dolphins and sea lions also assist security personnel in detecting and apprehending unauthorized swimmers and divers that might attempt to harm the Navy’s people, vessels, or harbor facilities," a source from Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific which oversees the program in the US said.