BERLIN – When Norwegian fishermen spotted a beluga whale last week, there was nothing that immediately indicated a national security threat.
But when the whale defied normal behavior and continued to harass their boats, the fishermen spotted a strange harness, wrapped around the whale’s body. “Equipment of St. Petersburg,” read an inscription on harness they later recovered, according to Norwegian media outlets.
Researchers say that the harness could have carried weapons or cameras, triggering new speculations over a sea mammal special operations program the Russian navy is believed to have pursued for years. While the Russian Defense Ministry has previously denied the existence of such a program, the same ministry published an ad in 2016, seeking three male and two female bottlenose dolphins, offering a total sum of $24,000.
In this part of Europe, nobody would be surprised if the latest Norwegian discovery did indeed turn out to be the fallout of a military experiment gone wrong. Since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has been behind a series of creepy reminders of the massive military apparatus lurking on Europe’s eastern outskirts: mystery submarines, unidentified jets that almost crashed with a passenger plane in at least one instance, and strange troop movements.