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

Norwegian authorities killed Freya, a 1,300 pound walrus who rose to fame this summer while sinking boats, they announced on Sunday, claiming she was euthanized due to 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,” the Directorate of Fisheries 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,” Bakke-Jensen added.

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 climbing aboard to rest for days or weeks at a time. But she has been spotted as early as 2019, according to Rune Aae, a doctoral student in science didactics at the University of South-Eastern Norway who has mapped Freya’s journey through photos snapped by scientists and amateur photographers, who shared the images on social media and online databases.

On Sunday, Aae criticized officials’ decision to kill Freya in a Facebook post, calling the move “too hasty” and “completely unnecessary.” He noted that there was enough tracking of Freya to ensure the public could avoid her and that there would be less onlookers with the summer holidays ending 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’s shores — approximately 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, and advised boat owners to avoid her and park their vessels so they would be harder for Freya to access.

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 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 away 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 Directorate of Fisheries, 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 from her, according to the statement released Sunday.

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

He added that his department 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 added.

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

Norwegian media outlets’ reports of the news 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.

Caroline Radnofsky contributed.

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