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Why did Norway euthanise Freya, the famous walrus who captivated crowds and climbed onto boats?

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Freya, whose name is a reference to the Norse goddess of beauty and love, had made headlines since 17 July when she was first spotted in the waters of the Norwegian capital. Authorities put her down after concluding she posed a risk to humans

Authorities in Norway have euthanised a walrus that had drawn crowds of spectators in the Oslo Fjord after concluding that it posed a risk to humans.

The 600-kilogram (1,320-pound) female walrus, known affectionately as Freya, became a popular attraction in Norway in recent weeks, despite warnings from officials that people should refrain from getting close and posing for pictures with the massive marine mammal. Freya liked to clamber on small boats, causing damage to them.

Walruses are protected and as recently as last month officials said they hoped Freya would leave of her own accord and that euthanasia would be a last resort.

Freya, whose name is a reference to the Norse goddess of beauty and love, had made headlines since 17 July when she was first spotted in the waters of the Norwegian capital.

Officials had previously said they were considering euthanasia because repeated appeals to the public to keep their distance had been in vain and that she was experiencing excessive stress.

Let’s take a closer look:

Atlantic walruses normally live in the Arctic.

It is unusual but not unheard of for them to travel into the North and Baltic Seas.

As per the World Wildlife Fund, there are over 25,000 Atlantic walruses making their homes in the icy waters around Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.

Rune Aae, who teaches biology at the University of South-Eastern Norway and manages a Google map of Freya sightings, told CNN the last time a walrus was documented this far south in the North Sea was in 2013. “It’s not common at all,” he said — which led crowds of Norwegians flocking to see Freya.

Between long naps in the sun — a walrus can sleep up to 20 hours a day — Freya had been filmed chasing a duck, attacking a swan and, more often than not, dozing on boats struggling to support her bulk.

Freya, estimated to be around five years old, had already been sighted in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden and chose to spend part of the summer in Norway.

Freya first gained notoriety in Norway by climbing onto pleasure boats in Kragero, an idyllic southern coastal village.

As per BBC, police in one instance blocked off a bathing area after Freya chased a woman into the water.

“Normally, walruses will show up on some islands, but they will leave quite soon, because they’re afraid of people,” said Aae.

But Freya “is not afraid of people,” he had explained. “Actually, I think she likes people. So that’s why she’s not leaving.”

Despite repeated appeals, curious onlookers continued to approach the mammal, sometimes with children in tow, to take photographs.

Newspaper Verdens Gang had put up a livestream of the walrus’s every move on its website.

 

“It’s a pity about the material damage but that’s the way it is when you have wild animals,” Rolf Harald Jensen, a fisheries official, told broadcaster TV2, standing next to a hapless inflatable boat buckling under the animal’s weight.

Another walrus, nicknamed Wally, was seen last year on beaches and even a lifeboat dock in Wales and elsewhere.

The walrus is a protected species that feeds mainly on invertebrates such as molluscs, shrimps, crabs and small fish.

Walruses do not normally behave aggressively towards humans, but they can feel threatened by intruders and attack.

As per BBC, in 2016, a tourist and zookeeper — the former taking selfies with the animal and pulled underwater and the latter attempting a rescue –were killed by a walrus at a China wildfire park.

An operation this week to save a beluga stranded in France’s Seine river also ended with the animal being put down.

Experts condemn move

Aae, who teaches biology at the University of South-Eastern Norway and manages a Google map of Freya sightings, condemned the death as ‘too hasty’.

He said that fisheries staff were monitoring her with a patrol boat to ensure the public’s safety and that she would likely leave the fjord soon, as she had on her previous visits in the spring.

Freya would have “sooner or later gotten out of the Oslo Fjord, which all previous experience has shown, so euthanasia was, in my view, completely unnecessary,” he wrote. “What a shame!”

Experts said the decision to euthanise Freya did not taking into account the animal’s well-being. Siri Martinsen, a spokeswoman for animal rights group NOAH, told TV2 television that it was a rushed measure and that fines should have been issued to disperse the onlookers.

“It’s very shocking,” she added, saying it was an opportunity to show people how to respect wild animals. “It’s infinitely sad that they chose to euthanise such a beautiful animal simply because we did not behave well with it,” biologist Rune Aae told the NTB news agency.

The Green Party earlier this week said experts recommended giving Freya sedatives and taking her away from populated areas, or taking her back to the remote Svalbard archipelago. But Bakke-Jensen said that “was not a viable option” because such an operation would be too complex.

‘Right call’

Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries said Freya was put down early Sunday “based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety.”

“Through on-site observations the past week, it was made clear that the public has disregarded the current recommendation to keep a clear distance to the walrus,” it said. “Therefore, the Directorate has concluded, the possibility for potential harm to people was high and animal welfare was not being maintained.”

The head of the directorate, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said other options — including moving the animal elsewhere — were considered. But authorities concluded it wasn’t a viable option.

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

With inputs from agencies

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