Picture: Princess Of Whales- Worldwide Publications- Exclusive Picture Spread- ***July 2011***

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These extraordinary pictures show a naked woman attempting to tame two beluga whales in a unique experiment.

It was deemed necessary for Russian diver Natalia Avseenko, 36, to strip for the unusual assignment as marine experts believe belugas do not like to be touched by artificial material like diving suits.

So Natalia bravely took the plunge into the sea as the temperature in the water touched minus 1.5 centigrade.

The belugas, famed for the apparent way in which their faces are able to convey expressions, seemed to like the experience, frolicking for all they were worth.

The taming of the belugas happened in the Murmansk Oblast region in the far north-west of Russia at the shore of the White Sea near the polar circle at a branch of the Utrish Dophinarium.

An area of the sea is bordered to stop whales and dolphins getting out and instructors tame the mammals before they are transported to dolphinariums around the world. The whales pictured are named Nilma and Matrena.

Belugas have a small hump on their heads used for echo-location and it was thought that there would be more chance of striking up a rapport or communicating with them without clothes on.

According to the Russian Emergency Service the average human could die if left in sub-zero temperature sea water for just five minutes.

However, Natalia spent ten minutes 40 seconds in the water with no obvious ill effects. A yoga practitioner, she used meditation techniques and was able to hold her breath for ten minutes underwater.

Belugas, of which there are around 100,000 in the wild, were among the first whale species to be held in captivity. The first beluga was shown Barnum's Museum in New York City in 1861.

Today it remains one of the few whale species kept at aquariums and sea life parks across North America, Europe, and Asia. Its popularity reflects its attractive color, and its range of facial expressions.

While most cetacean "smiles" are fixed, the extra movement afforded by the beluga's unfused cervical vertebrae allows a greater range of apparent expression. Most belugas found in aquaria are caught in the wild, though captive breeding programs enjoy some success.

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