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Freya the walrus could be put down unless the public steers clear, Norway warns

Crowds flocking to see the 1,300-pound mammal, as she swims from harbor to harbor this summer, are putting her health in danger, officials say.
A young female walrus, nicknamed "Freya," rests on a boat in Frognerkilen, Norway, on July 19, 2022.
A young female walrus, nicknamed "Freya," rests on a boat in Frognerkilen, Norway, last month. Tor Erik Schrder / AFP - Getty Images file

Fame may be putting Norway's celebrity walrus at risk of death.

Crowds flocking to see the 1,300-pound star of the country's summer, nicknamed Freya, are damaging the marine mammal's health to such an extent that euthanasia is now an option, the country's Directorate of Fisheries warned Thursday in a statement.

People have been gathering just feet away to take photos, throw objects and even swim in the water near Freya, who has made her home this week on a peninsula in Sandvika, around 10 miles west of Oslo, the capital, the statement said.

“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 Directorate of Fisheries, said in the statement.

“We are now investigating further measures, where euthanasia could be a real alternative,” she added.

The walrus has been an object of curiosity in Norway this summer as she swims from harbor to harbor along the country’s jagged coastline, feeding and resting on small boats that she often damages with her weight, to the frustration of the owners and the amusement of onlookers.

Image: Freya
Children were among the crowds gathered to see Freya at Kadettangen, near Sandvika, Norway on Wednesday. The crowd's faces were blurred by the Directorate of Fisheries to protect their privacy. Directorate of Fisheries

Walruses are a protected species in Norway, and the Directorate of Fisheries had previously said that euthanasia was “out of the question.”

But Freya's celebrity status is now raising fears for her safety, as well as for members of the public who get too close to her, the directorate said, adding that it had informed police about incidents where people had tried to swim up to the walrus.

“Our biggest fear is that people could get hurt,” Jdaini said.

Norway's Institute of Marine Research, whose scientists have been consulting with authorities on Freya's welfare, warned that relocating her to a more private space could be risky.

“Moving the walrus would be a difficult process, also because tranquilizing includes a risk of it drowning,” Erlend Asta Lorentzen, communications adviser at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research told NBC News via email on Friday.

Walruses are not commonly seen south of the Arctic Circle, but scientists believe Freya may have traveled from Norway's northern archipelago of Svalbard to feed on a species of invasive Pacific oyster found in coastal areas of northern Europe. Sightings of Freya have been documented online from as early as 2019.

Freya’s small tusks mark her as a young walrus, and a white scar on her right nostril and previous injury on her flipper help distinguish her from other members of her species that have undertaken similar tours in the last few years.