Whales trained by Russia's military may be harassing fishermen from NATO ally Norway

/ CBS News

An image taken by Jørgen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Director of Fisheries shows a white whale wearing a harness as it swims next to a Norwegian fishing boat. Jørgen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Director of Fisheries

Norwegian fishermen and scientists say a white whale wearing a strange harness that harassed boats in the Arctic recently may have been trained by Russia's military. Russia has acknowledged training sea mammals for special operations in the frigid Arctic, where the country has a major military base not far from the territory of key NATO member Norway.

According to Britain's The Guardian newspaper, Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported the unusual behavior by the whale last week, and showed video of the beluga whale swimming alongside a fishing vessel and repeatedly nudging it.

"We were going to put out nets when we saw a whale swimming between the boats," NRK quoted fisherman Joar Hesten as saying. "It came over to us, and as it approached, we saw that it had some sort of harness on it."

No science project

The harness was removed from the animal by a team from the Norwegian Director of Fisheries. Jørgen Ree Wiig, from the agency, sent CBS News images and video of the whale and the harness, which has a logo on it reading, "Equipment of St. Petersburg." The canvas straps appeared slightly worn and there was visible rust on the metal screws holding the apparatus together.

"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 in Norway told NRK.

norway-whale-harness-russia.jpg
A Norwegian Director of Fisheries team member holds aloft a harness removed from a white whale encountered by Norwegian fishing boats off the country's Arctic coast. Jørgen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Director of Fisheries

"We know that in Russia they have had domestic whales in captivity and also that some of these have apparently been released," Audun Rikardsen, a professor of marine biology at the Arctic University of Norway, told NRK according to The Guardian. "Then they often seek out boats."

But Rikardsen said he'd spoken to Russian scientists and they denied any knowledge of the harnessed whale: "They tell me that most likely is the Russian navy in Murmansk."

Whales as weapons

Russia's military has a history of trying to weaponize whales and other sea mammals.

The Guardian said the Cold War-era Soviet Union had a program to train dolphins to help detect underwater weapons and alert their military trainers. That program ran until the 1990s.

Then in 2017, Russia's TV Zvezda, which is owned by the defense ministry in Moscow, aired a report on a Russian navy program to train beluga whales, seals and dolphins for similar purposes.

norway-fisheries-whale.jpg
A beluga whale fitted with a harness swims alongside a Norwegian fishing boat in a photo provided by the Norwegian Director of Fisheries. Jørgen Ree Wiig/Norwegian Director of Fisheries

The Guardian said those recent efforts were carried out by a private research institute on behalf of the navy to see if beluga whales could, "guard entrances to naval bases" in the arctic and "assist deepwater divers and if necessary kill any strangers who enter their territory," according to the Russian TV report.

The newspaper says public Russian government records show the defense ministry spent about $25,000 purchasing five bottle-nosed dolphins in 2016 from a sealife center in Moscow.

Russia and NATO in the Arctic

Over the past three years, President Vladimir Putin has reopened three former Soviet military bases along its vast Arctic coastline as Russia and NATO accuse each other of increasingly bellicose actions along their shared border in the far northern reaches of Europe.

As CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin reported for "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Russia has been conducting simulated attacks near Norwegian territory with nuclear-capable warplanes.

How NATO and the U.S. are preparing for any Russian aggression off the coast of Norway

That, Norwegian joint force commander Lt. Gen. Rune Jakobsen told Martin, is "not something you should do to your neighbor."

In response to Russia's mounting belligerence in the region — and in the wake of Putin's unilateral annexation the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine — NATO held its largest war games to date in Norway last fall.

As Martin reported, Norway shares a 120-mile border with Russia, and its long Arctic coastline includes the closest points on European soil to the base of Russia's northern fleet, with its naval bases, airfields and nuclear weapons storage sites. The fleet, based on the remote Kola Peninsula, represent Russia's single greatest concentration of military power, especially submarines.

Martin was given rare access to the Norwegian military planes and ships tasked with monitoring Russia's actions in the Arctic, including their navy's newest surveillance vessel which has been equipped with the latest U.S. technology to detect submarines.

If what the Norwegian fishermen found is evidence of a current program by Russia's military, the Norwegians and their NATO partners might need to start looking for much smaller weapons of war, too — weapons with flippers.

First published on April 29, 2019 / 7:12 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

norway-russia-whale.jpg norway-whale-harness-russia.jpg norway-fisheries-whale.jpg

Whistleblower reveals info on companies buying and selling your location data

"CBS This Morning" investigates the perfectly legal means by which advertisers track your location through your phone – and how criminals could exploit that information

1M ago

Rabbi injured in synagogue shooting recounts confronting gunman

The chabad was marking the final day of Passover when police say a 19-year-old burst into the synagogue and opened fire with an assault style rifle on Saturday

35M ago

Residents flee airborne acid as North Carolina zinc plant burns

The fire started Sunday night at the plant, which lies near the border between North and South Carolina

1H ago

BYU valedictorian comes out as gay during graduation speech

Matt Easton's speech met with applause, cheers form thousands in attendance; says some say he went too far, others not far enough

1H ago

Your favorite household brands want to bring zero waste to your doorstep

Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo are among consumer-goods giants teaming with subscription delivery service Loop

2H ago

Barr and House Democrats spar over conditions for hearing

The attorney general, who Democrats have accused of protecting the president, wants to be questioned only by members of Congress — not committee staff

15H ago

Trump campaign chief vows to compete in 4 left-leaning states

Brad Parscale said the 2020 campaign will be "bigger, better and badder" by "every single metric"

15H ago

Richard Lugar, longtime senator and foreign policy sage, dies at 87

A soft-spoken and thoughtful former Rhodes Scholar, Lugar dominated Indiana politics during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate

16H ago

Richmond says impeachment is "best way to get all the facts out"

The Louisiana Democrat sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to draft articles of impeachment against presidents

19H ago

Graham says Trump "did nothing" to warrant impeachment

"I believe the president did nothing wrong. Whether you like him or not, I'll leave that up to you," Graham said on "Face the Nation"

20H ago

Weaponized whales from Russia may be harassing NATO ally Norway

Fishing crews and scientists in Norway, a key NATO ally in eyeshot of an increasingly belligerent Russia, found a whale wearing a strange harness

28M ago

Guantanamo Bay prison commander fired

Navy Rear Adm. John Ring was relieved of those duties due to a "loss of confidence in his ability to command, the U.S. Southern Command says

2H ago

Richard Lugar, longtime senator and foreign policy sage, dies at 87

A soft-spoken and thoughtful former Rhodes Scholar, Lugar dominated Indiana politics during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate

16H ago

Trump's call with Libyan warlord had "unnerving effect," Graham says

Graham said the president's phone call to Khalifa Haftar, a U.S. citizen, could be perceived as the U.S. government "picking sides"

21H ago

Almanac: The Chernobyl nuclear accident

On April 28, 1986 the Soviet government grudgingly acknowledged an explosion and release of radiation at a nuclear power plant

22H ago

"Avengers: Endgame" obliterates records with $1.2 billion opening

"Avengers: Endgame" reached a new pinnacle in the blockbuster era that the comic-book studio has come to dominate

10H ago

New on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon

Shows and movies you'll want to stream in May

Apr 26 36 photos

Playwright Taylor Mac on "Gary": Following in Shakespeare's bloody footsteps

The performance artist and author, who's made a career of challenging audience expectations, has written the unlikeliest of black comedies as a sequel to the Bard's most violent play

21H ago

"Gary" playwright Taylor Mac

As a followup to William Shakespeare's bloodiest play, "Titus Andronicus," Taylor Mac has penned an unlikely sequel: "Gary," a new Broadway comedy starring Nathan Lane as a servant hired to clean up the bloody mess of Shakespeare's tragedy. John Blackstone sits down with Mac, a playwright and performance artist best known for his 24-hour-long epic, "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music."

20H ago 05:26

Joan Collins: Playing the woman the world loved to hate

As the scheming Alexis Carrington on the '80s TV series "Dynasty," the British actress Joan Collins was really good at being bad

21H ago

Whistleblower reveals info on companies buying and selling your location data

"CBS This Morning" investigates the perfectly legal means by which advertisers track your location through your phone – and how criminals could exploit that information

1M ago

Almanac: The Chernobyl nuclear accident

On April 28, 1986 the Soviet government grudgingly acknowledged an explosion and release of radiation at a nuclear power plant

22H ago

Amazon under fire for software that recommends firing workers

Retailing giant denies employees are terminated through automated system, saying a manager can always intervene

Apr 26

Elon Musk and SEC reach new agreement over Twitter use

If deal terms are approved by federal judge, the Tesla CEO will need legal counsel's OK for future public statements

Apr 26

Uber dials back expectations as its preps for massive IPO

Ridesharing company expects to be valued at upwards of $90 billion when it goes public, lower than previous estimates

Apr 26

Seaweed pods replace plastic bottles at London Marathon

They are designed to be both edible and biodegradable — the pods themselves are tasteless, and if not consumed, biodegrade within six weeks

Apr 27

Climate change worsens economic inequality, scientists say

Global warming has harmful effects on the economies of hot countries, but boosts the GDP of colder countries

Apr 26

Chinese scientists insert human brain gene into monkeys

The experiments could create a new kind of monkey — and a big ethical dilemma

Apr 25

SpaceX mishap investigation continues

Engineers continue to collect data, high-speed imagery and recovered hardware in wake of SpaceX mishap

Apr 25

Satellite images show emperor penguins suffered breeding failure

Emperor penguins have long endured the brutal conditions of Antarctica. But now satellite imagery shows for the past three years, their second largest colony has suffered a catastrophic breeding failure. Chip Reid explains.

Apr 25 01:32

America's sex ed controversy: Can you teach consent?

Many college campuses are holding discussions about consent, but advocates want the conversation to start as young as kindergarten

10H ago

177 infected in E. Coli outbreak linked to ground beef

21 people have been hospitalized, the CDC says

Apr 27

Los Angeles colleges quarantine 900 possibly exposed to measles

Those under the quarantine were instructed to stay at home and avoid contact with others

Apr 26

Can drunk sex ever be consensual?

Heavy drinking and sexual activity often go together on college campuses, and that's a troubling dynamic

Apr 26

Hundreds of college students quarantined amid measles outbreak

Officials at UCLA said a student with measles attended classes for three days, potentially putting hundreds at risk

Apr 26

Your favorite household brands want to bring zero waste to your doorstep

Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo are among consumer-goods giants teaming with subscription delivery service Loop

2H ago

Potential whistleblowers have called FAA about Boeing 737 Max

CBS News confirms at least 4 such calls, from current and former Boeing employees, involved apparently problematic parts

3H ago

The rise of female gun ownership and fashionable "carrywear"

Alexo Athletica designed a pair of Lulelemon-like leggings with pockets for guns — and women gun owners took notice

Apr 26

Amazon under fire for software that recommends firing workers

Retailing giant denies employees are terminated through automated system, saying a manager can always intervene

Apr 26

Elon Musk and SEC reach new agreement over Twitter use

If deal terms are approved by federal judge, the Tesla CEO will need legal counsel's OK for future public statements

Apr 26

Boy "hero," 8, saves sister from kidnapping, moving car

Man allegedly tried to swipe car from hospital with two kids inside but boy's quick thinking enabled both to escape, police say

5H ago

"We need to battle darkness with light": Rabbi wounded in attack offers inspiration

Chabad of Poway's rabbi held an emotional press conference Sunday recalling the harrowing shooting at his synagogue near San Diego

4H ago

Memorial for synagogue shooting victims

A memorial is growing outside a synagogue in Poway, California, a day after a gunman stormed into the building and opened fired Saturday. Lori Gilbert Kay, 60, was killed and three people were wounded. Jonathan Vigliotti reports.

updated 43M ago 02:23

Rabbi wounded in synagogue attack speaks out

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who lost two fingers in Saturday's shooting, addressed the media Sunday afternoon to describe the deadly attack. He said "we'll survive" this shooting tragedy and "we must fight darkness with light." Watch his remarks here.

12H ago 22:01

Newly-drafted NFL player injured in shooting

Corey Ballentine, the New York Giants 2019 NFL draft pick, was injured in a shooting in Topeka, Kansas, early Sunday. It also claimed the life of Washburn University college teammate Dwane Simmons.

14H ago 00:39

NASA just detected the first "marsquake"

For the first time since its mission began, NASA's InSight lander has detected what scientists believe to be a marsquake

Apr 23

"Marfa Martians" sending their science experiment to space

The team, made up of 10 and 11-year-olds, want to find a way to kill bacteria in space

Apr 22

SpaceX suffers Crew Dragon engine test anomaly

SpaceX suffers engine "anomaly" in Crew Dragon test vehicle during Cape Canaveral engine test

Apr 20

Evidence found for first molecule in the universe

"This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments," a top NASA scientist said

Apr 17

Watch: Rocket launches cargo to space station

An Antares rocket blasted off from the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia carrying a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with supplies for the International Space Station.

Apr 17 01:45

Private secrets shared via postcard

Since 2004, hundreds of thousands of anonymous contributors with something to get off their chest have sent postcards to the website PostSecret.com

Apr 28 32 photos

Met Gala 2019: Craziest looks of all time

The bigger the tiara — or pope hat — the better! (Just ask Rihanna, Katy Perry or Sarah Jessica Parker … )

Apr 26 47 photos

New on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon

Shows and movies you'll want to stream soon

Apr 26 36 photos

Jason Corbett murder: A look at the evidence

In August 2015, former FBI agent Tom Martens and his daughter Molly Corbett admitted killing her Irish-born husband Jason Corbett, insisting they beat him in self-defense with a brick paver and a baseball bat because Jason was choking Molly and threatening to kill her

Apr 20 11 photos

Photos: Fire burns Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

On April 15, 2019 flames erupted at the landmark cathedral, the most-visited landmark in the French capital

Apr 16 46 photos

Popular

8-year-old in synagogue shooting: "Very scary"

A 19-year-old accused of killing one person and injuring three others inside a Southern California synagogue on Saturday was allegedly inspired by other attacks on Jews and Muslims. Jonathan Vigliotti spoke with two of the injured in the shooting, 8-year-old Noya Dahan and her uncle, Almog Peretz.

updated 2M ago 02:59

Commander of Guantanamo Bay prison is fired

Military officials say the commander of the task force that runs the prison at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been fired for a "loss of confidence in his ability to command." A statement from U.S. Southern Command says Navy Rear Adm. John Ring was relieved of duty Saturday.

updated 2M ago 00:24

Tent cities opening along southern border

Two tent cities will open along the southern border this week in response to a record-breaking surge of migrants crossing from Mexico. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told "60 MInutes" that many migrants who cross illegally are released in the U.S. with no fear of being sent home. Mireya Villarreal reports.

updated 3M ago 01:58

Witnesses describe Seattle crane collapse

Seattle's mayor says it is a miracle that a mother and her baby survived a deadly crane collapse. Dramatic dashcam video shows the moment the crane came crashing down at Google's new campus in Seattle on Saturday. Four people were killed and four others were injured. Janet Shamlian reports.

updated 9M ago 02:48

Rabbi injured in synagogue shooting speaks out

A 19-year-old student accused in the latest deadly attack on Jewish Americans allegedly was inspired by other attacks on Jews and Muslims. Suspected gunman John Earnest killed one person and injured three others inside a California synagogue Saturday. David Begnaud spoke with injured Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.

updated 11M ago 03:32