OneWhale, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world-famous ‘Russian spy whale’ Hvaldimir, celebrates city leaders in Hammerfest, Norway, who recently voted in support of an urgently needed planned marine reserve. The plan would transform a nearby pristine fjord into the Norwegian Whale Reserve, a pioneering international initiative to protect whales like Hvaldimir who have been released from captivity but lack the skills and experience to survive in the wild.
By Regina Crosby Haug, OneWhale founder
In the spring of 2019, I unexpectedly found myself in Norway. At the same time, a beluga whale mysteriously appeared wearing a harness. As a naturally curious filmmaker I wanted learn more about this whale and find out how my fellow transplant was faring in our new country.
On our first visit, the extraordinary white whale swam directly up to me and offered me a large, slippery, and kicking live fish. I grabbed on tightly to receive the gift and saw his sweet face. “I think we just became friends,” I thought to myself. That moment began a journey that would completely upend my life. But more importantly, our meeting will hopefully change the lives of whales all around the world.
Creating a documentary about Hvaldimir has been challenging, but protecting Hvaldimir in a country that still kills and eats whales has often felt like an impossible mission. I was told I was “crazy” for trying, but to me, it felt crazy not to help this precious, displaced, innocent animal. I soon learned I was not alone. My early grassroots efforts soon drew the attention of world-class whale experts and scientists, and in 2020 we banded together to form the nonprofit OneWhale.
The experts agreed that Hvaldimir needed time in a sanctuary – a place where he could live safely in the ocean, but with a buffer between himself and tourists, so that he could have a chance at rehabilitation and learn to be a wild whale again. Unfortunately, there was no place for him to go.
While there are reserves and sanctuaries for almost every species, there is not a single place in the world where formerly captive whales can be released to a protected place in the sea. This came as a sad surprise to me. With laws and attitudes about captivity changing around the globe, a whale reserve was desperately needed, not only for Hvaldimir but for captive whales everywhere.
I pitched the idea of using a fjord for a whale reserve in Norway and, because the government is accustomed to using its sea space almost entirely for major industries such as oil, gas, and salmon farming, I was laughed out of every conversation. Everything changed when I met with the folks at Hammerfest. This small but forward-thinking city was home to Hvaldimir for four months when he first arrived in Norway. They loved this whale and understood his unique needs. After two years of studies, research and planning, a vote was held to decide whether or not to host this pioneer project.
On March 23, 2023, in a landslide vote, the lawmakers of Hammerfest voted in favor of advancing the project and designating one of its pristine fjords as a whale reserve. At that moment, The Norwegian Whale Reserve was born and I knew there was finally hope for Hvaldimir. There’s an entire community that believes in this project. Although there is still much work to be done, I am humbled and overjoyed to celebrate this landmark step toward the conservation and protection of whales around the world.
About OneWhale and Norwegian Whale Reserve
OneWhale is a nonprofit created expressly to protect the health and welfare of Hvaldimir, Norway’s famous resident beluga whale. OneWhale has enlisted a world-renowned team of experts, including
whale researchers, scientists, and marine mammal veterinarians, all dedicated to helping Hvaldimir lead a long, healthy, and safe life in Norway. OneWhale works every day to ensure Hvaldimir’s safety and
survival. Our mission is to offer Hvaldimir refuge, rehabilitation, and release to a wild beluga population. We believe he deserves to be truly free with his own kind.
The Norwegian Whale Reserve will offer formerly captive whales like Hvaldimir a safe and protected natural environment to live in. Over 350 whales are estimated to live in captivity around the world, primarily in marine theme parks. Most are confined to concrete-and-glass tanks and isolated from other members of their species. The ultimate goal is that with successful rehabilitation, the whales can be released back to a wild population. While each whale is an individual and case-by-case situation, the founding principles of the Norwegian Whale Reserve are Rescue, Research, Rehabilitation, and Release.
About the author:
Regina Crosby Haug has dedicated her life to conservation through action after meeting Hvaldimir, the lost Russian ‘spy whale’. She founded OneWhale, a non-profit to protect Hvaldimir, in 2019. In seeking a solution for Hvaldimir, she founded the Norwegian Whale Reserve, a first-of-its-kind whale conservation project still in development in Norway. Regina is an American filmmaker who has written and directed for television and film. Her debut feature film, “Teenage Dirtbag” garnered critical success and a cult after winning festival awards including Best Director and Best Picture and receiving worldwide distribution on Netflix and Amazon. Regina is based in Los Angeles and Oslo.
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