“I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence,” the head of Norway’s fisheries directorate, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said in a statement.
The young female walrus — nicknamed after the Norse goddess of beauty and love — has been making a splash in the Norwegian capital since mid-July, apparently lapping up the attention in what some media reports described as her “hot girl summer.” Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid, set up a 24-hour live camera to film her exploits.
The decision to euthanize Freya caused an immediate backlash on social media, with many people denouncing the decision as a national shame. Some raised questions about why authorities didn’t attempt to move the walrus to a safer area.
Bakke-Jensen said moving the marine mammal was thoroughly considered, with the help of experts at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research. Authorities concluded that the complexity of the operation meant that “this was not a viable option” he said. He added that there were “several animal welfare concerns associated with a possible relocation.” He didn’t detail those concerns.
Freya had also been sighted along the coasts of several European countries in recent months, including Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands. (The young walrus once hitched a lift on a Dutch submarine. Appropriately, it belonged to the Walrus-class of vessels.)
Walruses normally live in the ice-covered waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and Alaska. There are approximately 25,000 Atlantic walruses and 200,000 Pacific walruses in the wild. They typically rest on sea ice between feeding bouts.
The marine mammals are protected in the United States. A U.S. appeal court last year ruled the Trump administration acted improperly in its decision to deny listing the Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered in 2017.
As the climate warms, wildlife advocates worry melting sea ice is causing walruses to rest more often on land — and driving them farther from their traditional fishing habitats.
Antarctica’s ‘sleeping giant’ risks melting, threatens spike in sea levels
Walruses are also being exposed to more shipping, tourism, industry and noise, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. The animals are easily spooked and can stampede in an attempt to reach the safety of the water.
In one recent video from Oslo, a trio on a Jet Ski pulled up within feet of a boat where Freya was napping, while several onlookers watched from the jetty. Officials on Sunday published a photo of scores of people crowded on a pier within feet of the animal, their faces blurred for privacy.
“Through on-site observations the past week it was made clear that the public has disregarded the current recommendation to keep a clear distance to the walrus,” Bakke-Jensen, the Norwegian fisheries official, said. “The possibility for potential harm to people was high and animal welfare was not being maintained,” he added.
Rune Aae, a researcher at the University of South-Eastern Norway who had been tracking the walrus via the Facebook group “Freya the walrus — where is she now?” criticized Norway’s decision to euthanize Freya as “hasty” and “completely unnecessary.”
School holidays are almost over for the summer, and the curious onlookers who have gathered to observe the walrus in the waters of Norway’s capital will soon disperse, Aae wrote Sunday.
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