Marine experts believe that beluga whales don't like the feel of fabric
and materials that aren't natural -- such as those used in wet suits. In
a unique and controversial experiment experts convinced professional
diver Natalia Avseenko to strip all the way down and swim in freezing
water to try to tame the large cetaceans. One of the results were some
The dive happened in the northwest of Russia in the Murmansk Oblast region not far from the Utrish Dolphinarium. There an area of the sea is closed off to keep the whales and dolphins from escaping. Trainers then work with the mammals to tame them before they are shipped to aquariums around the world.
Many animal conservationists consider the practice cruel. The whales are considered near threatened around the world with only about 100,000 of them left. Some specific beluga populations are considered endangered.
Belugas are gregarious creatures that generally get along well with humans. They use echolocation to help them navigate their underwater world. This is achieved with the help of a special organ located within the bulbous area at the top of their heads.
They are also known for their facial expressions that seem so similar to those of humans. They are able to do this because they have a more flexible facial bone structure than other whales.
In these photos, the whales definitely seem to be smiling over the presence of the nude Natalia. Swimming in such cold temperatures can be life threatening in as little as five minutes. Natalia, a world champion free-diver and an expert in yoga, used special meditation techniques to stay warm and hold her breath so that she was able to stay with the whales for more than ten minutes at a time.
The whales and Natalia do seem to develop something of a bond in these photos. They don't seem to be at all put off by the human presence in their habitat. The incredible images of woman and whales were photographed by Viktor Lyagushkin.