Whales hold aspecial spot in the public imagination, so it’s no surprise their activities and general status are often the subject of much news interest to many people. From clandestine Russian naval operations, to more positive stories of release or rare and valuable finds from Thai fishermen – these are the four most exciting news stories about whales from this month in 2019.
At the beginning of this month, a wholesome video of a group of South African rugby fans playing catch with a beluga whale went viral on social media. It racked up nearly 19 million views in a month, but what many viewers might not have been aware is that the cetacean in question may have actually been an escapee from a secret Russian navy program. Known to scientists as Hvaldamir, this particular Beluga whale was first spotted by researchers in 2017 – wearing a ‘St Petersburg Naval Base’ harness. Experts believe that in playing catch with humans, the whale is demonstrating that it relies on pleasing humans for food.
Both the US navy and the Russians have a documented history of using whales and dolphins for war purposes, such as scouting enemy submarines or detecting mines. However, it’s long been rumoured that the Russians are also using them for intelligence gathering operations, and this sighting of Hvaldamir may just be another clue as to what’s really going on.
Second Thames Beaching in Two Months
Right at the end of this month, on the 30th, a mother and her young child were shocked to find an eight-foot whale carcass washed up on the banks of the Thames underneath Battersea Bridge in central London. Authorities later confirmed that the creature was in fact a minke whale – a species not unknown to England’s shores, but certainly not usually seen this far up the river. This news comes after last month’s stranding of a 20-foot plus humpback whale in Rotherhithe, Kent, further down the river from the capital towards the coast.
100 Orcas and Belugas Released from Illegal Catch
In some more positive news out Russia for whales, nearly 100 beluga whales and orcas that have been penned up for nearly a year and a half have finally been released into the wild. The creatures were the last of their kind to be legally caught for export to aquariums and private collections around the world, before the law changed and banned their export. Sitting in legal limbo for such a long time, it’s good to see that they have finally been released. Authorities said the delay was due to their need to assemble an expert team to handle the animals’ transport – and a safe location in which to release them.
Fishermen Finds a Whale of a Haul
If you didn’t already know, solidified whale vomit (or ambergris as it is called) is a key ingredient in many perfume recipes – and is thus extremely valuable. One lucky Thai fisherman found a 6-kilogram lump of it on a beach last year, and finally got the go ahead for a £280,000 sale earlier this month. However, his haul pales in comparison to that of a three-man fishing crew from Oman – who discovered an 80kg deposit in 2016. That find sold for a cool $3 million.