Norway’s Killing of Freya the Walrus Denounced by Environmentalists
Last week, while the Oslofjord was basking in the sun and full of swimmers, boaters and children enjoying their last week of summer vacation, the visitor got a visit: a 1,300-pound walrus named Freya.
This week is different. Not only has school started again and the weather has turned, but the walrus, who had been a source of joy and something of an international celebrity, is dead.
On Sunday morning, Norwegian authorities killed Freya, saying she posed too great a threat to people who did not heed repeated warnings to stay away from her. Moving her out of the area was “too great a risk,” officials added.
Environmentalists and fans of Freya on social media said the decision to kill her, just three days after being warned that she might need to be put down, was hasty and unnecessary.
But the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate said: in a statement that it was the only option after the public failed to heed the warnings.
“I am convinced that this was the right call,” the director-general of the directorate, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said in the statement. “We have great respect for animal welfare, but human lives and safety must come first.”
The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research had considered moving Freya out of the area, Mr Bakke-Jensen added, but “the extensive complexity of such an operation led us to conclude that this was not a viable option.”
Moving a 1,300-pound mammal isn’t easy. Freya would have needed anesthetic and then be caught in a net to prevent drowning before leaving the area.
In Norway, Freya has dominated the news since she arrived in June, with trackers, Facebook groups and almost daily articles describing her plight. A Facebook page called “Freya the Walrus – Where is she now?” had followed her. Since Sunday, the group, which has more than 1,000 members, has been inundated with sad comments and condolences.
The country’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Store, said he supported the conclusion that Freya should be put down, telling a broadcaster it was was “the right decision”.
Freya made appearances off the coasts of Britain and several other European countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark, for at least two years.
“Now she comes to this chic, overcrowded beach and she’s dead,” said Trine Tandberg, 62, who runs a children’s theater in Oslo. She said she’d been following the news about Freya closely.
“She hasn’t hurt anyone,” Mrs. Tandberg said. “That’s what makes so many of us really, really angry about this whole thing.”
The Oslofjord, where Freya spent her time, is a densely populated area that also includes Oslo, the capital of Norway. About two million people live in the region, in a country of just over five million.
Walruses are social animals and rarely venture anywhere alone, which may be why Freya seemed to enjoy being around people and why she had sought out a crowded area.
“I’m surprised at the speed of the decision” to kill her, said Fredrik Myhre, a marine biologist for the World Wildlife Fund in Norway. “They should have been more patient.”
One option would have been to control the crowds that Freya went to visit, cordon off the area or fine those who ventured too close, experts said. Other possibilities included making loud underwater noises or spreading the scent of predators to keep her out of the area, according to Dan Jarvis, director of welfare and conservation at British Divers Marine Life Rescue, a charity based in England.
But those options weren’t easy: Scaring noises and smells can also disturb and deter other animals in the fjord, Mr Myhre said.
Experts in other countries where Freya had been in the past two years expressed disbelief at her fate.
“Norway quickly opted for the very last option,” says Annemarie van den Berg, director of SOS Dolfijn, a Dutch marine rescue organization that was involved with Freya when she appeared in the Netherlands last year.
“Freya never stayed in one place for too long,” says Mrs. van den Berg. When the Dutch authorities settled Freya in the fall of 2021, she said, they focused on keeping people away from the animal.
While Freya may seem cute taking a nap in the sun, Ms. van den Berg added, “She’s a mammal and therefore dangerous.”
Norway’s fisheries management had repeatedly told people to stay away from Freya, but the advice had been largely ignored, a spokesman said last week. Authorities warned that the walrus could be killed if they couldn’t persuade onlookers to stay away.
Swimmers had been very close to the animal in its final days, taking selfies and sometimes even throwing things at her, a board spokesman said. Despite the warnings, however, no one was injured.
Mr Myhre, the marine biologist, placed the responsibility for Freya’s fate on those who would not listen to calls to keep their distance. People wouldn’t take a selfie next to a 1,300-pound bull, Mr Myhre said, adding: “You shouldn’t do that with a walrus either.”
The timing of the murder has also been questioned. Summer holidays in Norway have come to an end and the rain is back in the area, so crowds should probably ease.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 225,000 walruses live in the wild. They generally live in ice-covered waters in Canada, Norway and Russia, and in Greenland and Alaska. They lose some of their usual habitat as ice caps melting due to climate change.
Mr Jarvis, the director of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, acknowledged the threat such wild animals pose to humans, but he said that was not enough of a reason to kill Freya.
“We don’t kill all great white sharks just because one of them could attack someone at some point,” said Mr. Jarvis.
Last year, Mr Jarvis was part of the team dealing with: Wally, another walrus, who spent about six weeks off the coast of South West England in an area full of boats. To try and prevent Wally from causing damage to the ships, the local authorities have given him a platform to lie on.
Glenn Murphy, who runs a boat and fishing company in the Oslofjord, said locals’ reaction to Freya’s fate was mixed, mainly because of the risk that someone could be injured or killed, including children.
“It seemed to me she was looking for company,” Mr. Murphy said. “That could have unintentionally turned out to be a terrible accident.”