Springbok fans recently filmed playing rugby with a beluga off the South Pole. The video, touching at first glance, could hide a dark reality.
The sequence, which quickly became viral on social networks, shows South African fans on a boat, throwing the official oval ball of the last Rugby World Cup, to a beautiful beluga whale. The cetacean plays a few seconds with the ball before bringing it back – against all odds – near the boat.
A scene that seems to repeat itself since when one of the individuals throws the ball again, the beluga rushes in pursuit.
Behavior that is not natural
Shared millions of times by Internet users around the world, the video caught the attention of Quad Finn, a cetacean specialist and former marine mammal rescuer, in a tweet spotted by the Huffington Post.
This appears to be 'Hvaldimir'; he's a former captive beluga Hammerfest, Norway. https://t.co/iaAXaQ6Qnf
– Quad Finn (@Quad_Finn) November 7, 2019
"It seems like Hvaldimir. This is an old Beluga whale that was held by Russians and lives today in the waters of Hemmerfest, Norway, "he warned Thursday, November 7.
"Alone, malnourished and injured, (Hvaldimir) wanders in the oceans, looking for food and attention from humans," also alerted Ferris Jabr, a columnist for Scientific American.
Concretely, playing with a ball like a dog is not normal for a wild cetacean. "Belugas are incredibly smart and sociable, but real wild whales are not used to rugby. They do not know what to do with a ball if you throw one at them, "says Ferris Jabr.
Cetacean "unable to feed itself" would seek help
Because of his natural intelligence, Hvaldimir could have been trained by man as part of a Russian military program. Spotted for the first time in April 2019, off the coast of Norway, the marine mammal was also strapped into a harness, which read: "Equipment of St. Petersburg," according to the website of the foundation dedicated to the animal, quoted by the Parisian. Hence his nickname, pun made from "hval" ("whale" in Norwegian) and "Vladimir", the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Subject to the hand of the man who fed him, Hvaldimir would have become completely "dependent" and "unable to hunt and feed himself".
The viral video of a "wild" beluga playing fetch is not what it seems. This is likely Hvaldimir, a captive whale who may have escaped a Russian military program. Alone, malnourished, and injured, H. roams the seas, seeking food & attention from people https://t.co/GcvFcT4O8k
– Ferris Jabr (@ferrisjabr) November 9, 2019
Moreover, "no successful hunting could be identified in a week of animal observation conducted by Norwegian scientists," says the website of the Hvaldimir Foundation.
Hence this tragic conclusion formulated by Ferris Jabr: "The video has been shared hundreds of thousands of times. But this is not an adorable or inspiring portrayal of the relationships between species. It's a tragic story, far too much like Keiko and Luna (the cetaceans from the movie 'Save Willy'), orcs that celebrity and isolation have killed far too young. "