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Norway euthanizes Freya, walrus who rose to fame for sinking boats

“The decision to euthanize the walrus was made based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety,” the director of fisheries said.
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Norwegian authorities euthanized Freya, a 1,300-pound walrus who rose to fame this summer for sinking boats, they announced Sunday, citing public safety concerns caused by the crowds she attracted.

"The decision to euthanize the walrus was made based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety," Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen said in a statement.

"Highly skilled and trained personnel executed the order in conduct with current routines and regulations for euthanasia for marine mammals," he said.

The walrus — whose name refers to the Norse goddess of fertility and love — rose to fame over the last few months as she traveled the country's coastline, damaging boats and ships after having climbed aboard to rest for days or weeks at a time. She had been spotted as early as 2019, said Rune Aae, a doctoral student in science didactics at the University of South-Eastern Norway who mapped Freya's journey through photos scientists and amateur photographers snapped and shared on social media and in online databases.

Aae criticized officials' decision to put Freya to death in a Facebook post Sunday, calling the move "too hasty" and "completely unnecessary." He said that there was enough tracking of Freya to ensure the public could avoid her and that there would be fewer onlookers when the summer holidays end soon.

Norwegian media outlets chronicled Freya's travels this summer, and Norwegians flocked to the Oslo coast in recent weeks to watch her eat, sleep and rest. Adding to the attraction was the fact that walruses typically live in herds in the Arctic, making her solo presence off the capital — about 1,200 miles from where scientists believe she was from — all the more unexpected.

Experts said she was attracted to the boats because they reminded her of Arctic ice floes. They advised boat owners to avoid her and to park their vessels so they would be harder for her to reach.

More walruses are hunting on land as climate change causes ice in the Arctic to melt, increasing competition for food, which may explain the extent of Freya’s travels.

The Directorate of Fisheries said in a statement last month that “euthanasia is out of the question” and that it was the “last option” given that walruses are a protected species in Norway.

There are about 225,000 walruses in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

On Thursday, the agency warned in a statement that euthanasia was an option, noting that onlookers were gathering just feet from the walrus to take photos, throw objects and swim.

“The animal’s welfare is clearly weakened. The walrus is not getting enough rest and the professionals we are in dialogue with believe she is stressed,” Nadia Jdaini, a senior communications adviser at the Fisheries Directorate, said in the statement.

Freya posed a “high” threat of potential harm to fans and onlookers who did not follow official guidance to keep their distance, said the statement, which was released Sunday.

Bakke-Jensen said: “We have considered all possible solutions carefully. We concluded that we could not ensure the animal’s welfare through any means available.”

He said that the Fisheries Directorate discussed the possibility of relocating Freya with the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research but that “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,” he said.

Erlend Asta Lorentzen, a communications adviser at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, said by email Friday that “moving the walrus would be a difficult process, also because tranquilizing includes a risk of it drowning."

Norwegian media outlets' reports of Freya's death reflected her growing fame. "The famous walrus Freya is dead," one read. "The killing of the celebrity walrus is receiving international attention," read another report.

"We have sympathies for the fact that the decision can cause reactions with the public, but I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence," Bakke-Jensen said.