Why Norway euthanised ‘beloved’ walrus Freya

The decision by Norwegian authorities to euthanise a “celebrity” walrus has triggered an outpouring of grief and anger.

Named after the Norse goddess of beauty and love, Freya the walrus had been sighted off the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden before making headlines after “she chose to spend part of the summer in Norway”, reported The Guardian.

CNN said the “beloved” 600kg walrus “became a social media sensation” after being filmed “clambering onto small boats to sunbathe”. Huge crowds came to see her lounging about in the Oslo Fjord, an inlet on Norway’s southeastern coast.

But following reports of visitors swimming with her and getting dangerously close to take photos, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries warned last week that Freya might have to be put down if the risk to human safety was deemed too high. 

The public “appeared to ignore the advice” to keep their distance, ITV News reported. According to local media, on one occasion, police blocked off a bathing area after the walrus chased a woman into the water.

The directorate told CNN that multiple solutions were being considered, including relocating Freya out of the fjord. But in a statement on Sunday, the department announced that a “decision to euthanise” had been “taken on the basis of a global evaluation of the persistent threat to human security”. 

Although euthanising Freya “might cause reactions with the public”, it “was the right call”, said director general Frank Bakke-Jensen.

Critics were quick to disagree. The decision to kill Freya was “too hasty”, said a Facebook post by Rune Aae, a biologist at the University of South-Eastern Norway who had been tracking Freya’s movement on a Google map to help people know when to stay away from her.

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According to The New York Times, “walruses are social animals and rarely venture somewhere alone, which may have been why Freya had spent time in a highly populated area” around the Norwegian capital.

A protected species, walruses normally live further north in the Arctic and “do not usually attack humans”, said the BBC, although “there have been some rare incidents”.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, a total of around 230,000 walruses live in the wild, predominantly in ice-covered waters in Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and Alaska.

The walrus was “once threatened by commercial hunting, but today the biggest danger it faces is climate change”, with widespread loss of glaciers and sea ice, said the conservation organisation.