Freya rests on a boat in Frognerkilen, in the Oslo fjord, Norway, on July 19, 2022. TOR ERIK SCHRDER / NTB/AFP via Getty Images
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Early in the morning of Sunday August 14, the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate euthanized Freya – the 1,300-pound walrus who became a summer superstar when she made her home off the Norwegian capital in mid-July.
The direction argued in a statement that euthanizing Freya was the only way to protect crowds of humans who simply wouldn’t stay far enough away from the charismatic marine mammal. But the decision caused instant controversy in Norway and beyond, as animal lovers everywhere argued there had to be another way to protect Freya and her fans.
“Freya was sooner or later out of the Oslo Fjord, which all previous experiences have shown, so killing her was, in my opinion, totally unnecessary, and another example of easy gun management – for which Norway is already well known”, Biologist from the University of South East Norway Rune Aæ, who had become something of an advocate for Freya during her time in Oslo, said in a Facebook post after her death. “Norway is the country that killed Freya after spending more than two years around the entire North Sea. That’s a shame!”
Aae had warned the press in July that the crowds of people drawn to walrus were stressing her out, and the Fisheries Branch later warned her fans that they basically had her life in their hands. People were taking pictures a few feet away, throwing things at her and swimming in the water near her, direction said on Thursday before making the decision to euthanize him, as reported by NBC News.
“Animal welfare is clearly compromised. The walrus is not resting enough and the professionals we speak to believe she is stressed,” Nadia Jdaini, senior communications adviser at the Fisheries Branch, said in the statement, as reported by NBC News. “We are now studying other measures, where euthanasia could be a real alternative.”
However, onlookers ignored the warning.
“They wanted a selfie, a hug with it. Best Friends Forever,” 44 Kjell Jonsson told the New York Times. “The fault lies with all those who could not leave her alone.”
Management said they were considering other alternatives, as reported by BBC News, including anesthetizing her to move her or catching her by placing a report under a boat. But they feared she could panic and drown if she was anesthetized or get tangled and drown in the net.
“We have carefully studied all possible solutions. We concluded that we could not provide the [animal’s] welfare by all available means,” Norwegian Fisheries Directorate General Director Frank Bakke-Jensen said in the statement.
Aae disagrees. He told NBC News that trying and not moving her would have been a better option, as would doing more work to control crowds. This last argument was shared by Fern Wickson, a professor at the Arctic University of Norway.
“That the government chose to take Freya’s life rather than try to manage this potential risk by implementing more effective measures to manage people’s behavior was surprising and disappointing,” she told the BBC. News.
Some outraged fans even raised over $25,000 for a statue commemorating Freya.
“Freya’s shooting has a strong negative signaling effect that we in Norway, and especially in Oslo, are unable to provide living space for wild animals,” the appeal reads. “By erecting a statue of the symbol that Freya has quickly become, we will always remind (and future generations) that we cannot or should not always kill and suppress nature when she is ‘in the way’.”
But the story of humanity’s interactions with wildlife – and with walruses in particular – is bigger than a doomed star in a port city.
“The big picture,” zoological director of Copenhagen Zoo Mads Frost Bertelsen told BBC News, “is global warming and pollution of the sea.”