- A new, secured location for two marine pens was spotted near a Russian submarine base that primarily conducts underwater research and clandestine operations.
- Russia's move to increase security comes months after a friendly beluga whale dubbed "Whaledimir" was found by Norwegian fishermen in April.
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The Russian military appears to have clamped down on its trained beluga whales after one of them was found in Arctic Norway in late April, according to open-source satellite images.
Two marine pens, which appear to be used to keep trained beluga whales, are believed to have been moved to Olenya Bay, off the coast of the Barents Sea, and sealed using mooring ropes and lines, according to the images reviewed by The Barents Observer . A beluga whale was also spotted in one of the pens.
The new location of the marine pens is near a Russian submarine base that primarily conducts underwater research and clandestine operations, The Barents Observer said. The base reportedly holds nine nuclear-powered submarines and other ships with missions that are publicly unknown, aside from the reports of increased activity near underwater sea-cables.
The move to heighten security comes months after a beluga whale was found by Norwegian fishermen in April. The beluga whale, which locals dubbed "Whaledimir" in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was discovered with a harness with a GoPro camera mount.
"Whaledimir," which appeared friendly and swam close to the locals, may have escaped as the marine pens were being moved to the new location, The Barents Observer noted. If "Whaledimir" had originated from Olenya Bay, it would have needed to travel 310 miles to reach the Norwegian territories where he was spotted by the local fishermen.
It was unclear what the beluga whale's intended mission was, or whether it was even militaristic in nature. But the camera equipment, which included an "Equipment St. Petersburg" marking in Latin, was reportedly turned over to Norwegian police.
"If this whale comes from Russia and there is great reason to believe it then it is not Russian scientists but rather the navy that has done this," Martin Biuw of the Institute of Marine Research said to Norwegian media in April.
Russia's interest in using beluga whales and dolphins spans back to the days of the USSR, Yevgny Polukhin, the director of Primorsky Center for Underwater Research in St. Petersburg, said in an interview with a local news publication, according to The Barent Observer .
Polukhin noted that the programs ultimately "did not pay off" and that the "animals were very smart."
But one former Soviet trainer claimed that the dolphins could be trained to differentiate between Soviet and foreign submarines by the sound of the propeller, and that they could perform suicide attacks by carrying mines, according to the BBC in 2000.
Doug Cartlidge, another former dolphin trainer who visited a Russian training site after it was decommissioned, said that a group of dolphins were trained to kill people using a hollow needle and carbon dioxide cylinders.
"At first the dolphins were trained to ram with their beak," Cartlidge said to Wired in 2007. "But this could make them dangerous to handle for the trainers. With the CO2 weapon, the dolphins were only dangerous when they were armed."
The US has also explored programs centered around sea creatures. The Navy has run its Marine Mammal Program since the 1960s, and trained bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to "detect, locate, mark and recover objects in harbors, coastal areas, and at depth in the open sea."
These animals are also trained in "detecting and apprehending" divers and swimmers who try to trepass near naval bases, according to the Navy; trespassers could plant mines on ship hulls or attack sailors before slipping away.
After the US military was criticized for its lack of transparency and its use of the sea creatures, civilians have been allowed to take part in tours of its facilities in San Diego, California.
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