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Beluga whale wearing Russian-made harness is quickly swimming south to Sweden, Norway says

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — (AP) — Norwegian authorities said Tuesday that a beluga whale, which was first spotted in Arctic Norway four years ago with an apparent Russian-made harness and alleged to have come from a Russian military facility, has been seen off Sweden’s coast nearly 2,000 kilometers (around 1,250 miles) to the south.

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“During the last few weeks, it has moved quickly and swam several hundred kilometers” before reaching waters off Sweden’s west coast, Olav Lekve of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said.

He said it has been reported off Lysekill, which sits north of Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. There was no immediate comment from Swedish authorities.

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Last week, the white mammal was spotted in the inner Oslo fjord where the directorate urged people to avoid contact with the animal to ensure its safety and wellbeing. Whale-watchers in Norway have nicknamed it Hvaldimir, combining the Norwegian word for whale — hval — and the Russian first name Vladimir.

The directorate pointed out that there was a risk of injury for Hvaldimir when more recreational boats than usual gathered in the fjord as people sought to catch a glimpse of a huge U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which briefly visited the Norwegian capital.

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“We have not received any reports from the inner Oslo fjord that give cause for concern,” Lekve said in an email to The Associated Press.

As to its origins, Norwegian authorities “don’t want to speculate on it either, Lekve said.

“He is a little lonely whale who hopes to find other white whales that he can hang out with,” said Sebastian Strand, a marine biologist with Onewhale, a nonprofit organization created solely for protecting the health and welfare of Hvaldimir.

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“There are few beluga whales along the Norwegian coast and in Sweden. He probably wants to have a family but has swum a little wrong,” he told Swedish broadcaster TV4.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former foreign minister, jokingly suggested to TV4 that Hvaldimir should be granted political asylum in Sweden, saying “it is possible that it is a refugee protesting against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war” in Ukraine.

Lekve said that, when in Norwegian waters, the beluga whale was considered a protected wild marine mammal, and authorities in Norway have “rejected all inquiries and plans to capture the whale.”

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In 2019, the enigmatic whale was found frolicking in a frigid harbor near Norway’s northernmost point, where it became a local attraction. The whale, which is no longer wearing the harness, is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock and retrieves plastic rings thrown into the sea.

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