Meet Hvaldimir. His human name comes from the contraction of « hval » meaning « whale » in Norwegian and « Vladimir » because of his suspected Russian origins.
This adult male beluga appeared last april, following a fishing boat, he was wearing a kind of dorsal harness. A fisherman got in the water to free him, the whale followed the boat into the harbor qnd since then he’s been travelling northern Norway’s fjord looking for human contact. That is where things are getting interesting.
Why a wild animal would look for human contact? More over when they know that humans are a plague to ecosystems. Well Hvaldimir was at some point trained by humans. Was it in a marine park or a military facility? We don’t know for sure but I’d lean toward the military facility for various rasons including the harness on his back when he was found as well as the ability to feed himself in the ocean and his abilities to survive the harsh environment. A marine park animal who would have spend his own life or most of it in full captivity would be more vulnerable I think.
Hvaldimir looking for human contact is because belugas are highly social animals living in large pods. They need to socialize and communicate. For sure the interactions he can have with humans aren’t as rich as he would with his fellow beluga but it’s a palliative to being totally alone. Ambassador cetaceans have been around forever. We call them ambassadors because with our human way of looking at the world. We believe they act as a messenger of their species.
It is a bit more complex than that. There are probably many reasons pushing animals to hang around humans but at the end it all comes to one thing: the impossibility for all beings with high cognitive abilities to live alone. What differs though is why an animal like Hvaldimir look for contacts with another species.
Usually ambassador cetaceans are animals without a pod. Here the reason is obvious, an ex captive or semi captive animal finding himself free and wild in a place where there are no other people like him.
I deliberately use here the word « people ». We ear some saying that it is bad to interact with him but without interactions he slowly socially dies.
We have screwed up our planet, we’ve crated bad situations like this one and we have the duty to take every opportunity arising to reconnect with nature and understand it for what it truly is, not for what our human distorted vison would like to understand and format it. When you spend hours with the same animal you get to know him and predict his moves and routine, and same for him, he can anticipate what you’ll do, like old friends or team mates. A mutual respect is set.
It’s not often you can experience that in the wilderness and it helps you to get a deeper understanding of animal psychology and refine your interactions with all other species.
On a technical note conditions were harsh, diving in arctic environment is difficult. Water is cold and outside temperatures are below -10°c. Both gear and freediver are affected: our thick wetsuits don’t allow us the freedom of movement we are used to, the cold makes us less relaxed and shorten our dive time. The photo equipment suffers, battery life is reduced even in an aluminium housing. Natural light is low and modern sensors help a lot to get decent images. The dynamic range of the Nikon Z6 helped me a lot to focus on the encounter instead of being stressed by the quest for the right exposure, the white whale on dark water background would have been tricky to expose with sensors we had 10 years ago.