The Norwegian government euthanized Freya the walrus early Sunday morning citing safety concerns after the public did not heed warnings to stay away from her.
“The decision to euthanize the walrus was made based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety,” Frank Bakke-Jensen, the director general of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, said in a press release.
“Highly skilled and trained personnel executed the order in conduct with current routines and regulations for euthanasia for marine mammals.”
Freya, a 600-kilogram walrus named after the Norse goddess of love and beauty, became a social media star this summer after being repeatedly sighted around Oslo’s harbour. She made a name for herself by dozing on moored boats and sinking them under the weight of her bulky frame.
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Kathrine Ryeng, a veterinary medicine scientist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, told NBC News that Freya was likely choosing to sleep, relax and digest food on empty boats because they reminded her of Arctic ice floes.
Experts believe that Freya left her natural habitat in the Arctic Circle and swam south as environmental degradation increases competition for food among walrus populations. Ryeng posited that Freya had developed a taste for the Pacific oyster, and was choosing to spend time along Norway’s coast where the invasive species was most concentrated.
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“If Freya actually eats this delicacy, she could prove to be a resource for management by limiting spread and clearing the population,” said marine researcher Lars-Johan Naustvoll, who was involved in mapping concentrations of Pacific oysters around Norway.
Initially, the Directorate of Fisheries said that “euthanasia is out of the question” and “the last option” for Freya as walruses are a protected species in Norway.
But on Thursday, the agency warned it was considering euthanizing the celebrity walrus as it had observed Freya’s fans swimming with her and getting dangerously close. Some people had even thrown objects at Freya, according to the news release.
“The Directorate of Fisheries’ assessment is that the public’s negligent behaviour and failure to follow the recommendations from the authorities can endanger life and health,” said Nadia Jdaini, senior communications adviser of the Directorate of Fisheries.
“Animal welfare is clearly weakened. The walrus does not get enough rest and the professionals we are in dialogue with consider her to be stressed.”
The agency said it “considered all possible solutions carefully” before deciding to euthanize Freya. It claims that no other plan of action could have ensured her safety, including relocating Freya away from the busy capital city.
“The extensive complexity of such an operation made us conclude that this was not a viable option. There were several animal welfare concerns associated with a possible relocation,” Bakke-Jensen said. “I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence.”
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Rune Aae, a doctoral student in science didactics at the University of Southern-Eastern Norway, has been tracking Freya’s movements since 2019 on an interactive, online map and he condemns the government’s decision as “too hasty.”
In a Facebook post, Aae said that Freya likely would have left the waters around Oslo soon, “so euthanasia was, in my view, completely unnecessary.”
Aae added that Fisheries had a patrol boat monitoring Freya to protect the public’s safety and that the end of summer would mean fewer people around to bother her.
Though Freya did sink a few boats, she did not cause any reported injuries.
“What a shame!” Aae wrote. “This is just sad!”
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