Freya the walrus was euthanized by Norwegian authorities after becoming a victim of her own popularity—the 1,320-pound female walrus was put down on Sunday, August 14 by Norway's Directorate of Fisheries, "based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety." Here's why the decision was made—and what was the public's reaction.
Freya Was Too Popular
Freya would draw crowds every time she appeared, which eventually led to her untimely demise. "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," said the Directorate of Fisheries. "Therefore, the Directorate has concluded, the possibility for potential harm to people was high and animal welfare was not being maintained."
Killed By Selfie Culture
Authorities repeatedly warned people not to get too close to Freya, and for good reason—walrus attacks on humans are rare, but can be deadly. A man was killed by a walrus in China's Xixiakou Wildlife Park after attempting to take a selfie with the animal. The tourists who flocked to see Freya would continuously get too close while trying to get the perfect selfie, putting themselves at immense and unnecessary risk. This obsession with selfies is one of the reasons authorities felt they had no choice but to euthanize the famous mammal.
Authorities Had No Choice
Questions have been asked why Freya wasn't moved to a different location, but apparently this 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," says directorate head Frank Bakke-Jensen. "We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence."
Not Everyone Agrees
Rune Aae, who teaches biology at the University of South-Eastern Norway and would track Freya's movements, does not agree with the decision to put her down. "What I have been warning against for months has happened: Freya was killed, in my opinion, too hasty a conclusion," he said in a Facebook post. "Recently we got a great tool in our hands with the Facebook group 'Freya the walrus – where is she now?' where the public could continuously post observations of Freya. In addition, the Directorate of Fisheries had their own boat out to follow Freya, where they too could inform the public of her position at any time. In sum, everyone would be able to know where Freya was and could act accordingly, i.e. not engage in water activities near her. The downside was the gathering of people on land, but that represents no danger to either party, and could have been easily handled."
"Trigger-Happy Gun Management"
According to Aae, Freya would eventually have left, and the end of summer vacation would mean the kids visiting the walrus would be safely back in school. "Now there are TWO (!) days until the rain pours down in Inner Oslo Fjord, and the school holidays are immediately over so that the number of meetings with Freya would be reduced to an absolute minimum," Aae says. "Freya had sooner or later gotten out of the Oslo Fjord, which all previous experience has shown, so killing her was, in my view, completely unnecessary, and another example of a trigger-happy gun management – for which Norway is already well known. Norway is the country that killed Freya after being around for over two years around the entire North Sea. What a shame! This is just sad!"
Aae is not the only person who thinks Freya should have been spared—animal rights campaigners are expressing outrage at the decision to put the friendly walrus down. Siri Martinsen of animal rights group NOAH says the tourists themselves should have been punished through fines, and Christian Steel of environmental group Sabima is demanding the fisheries directorate share documentation on who decided to euthanize Freya, and on what grounds. "The directorate cannot keep this a secret just to make things convenient for itself," Steel said. "They have a reason for it. There must have been professionals in the picture who have made an assessment that this animal was stressed."
"It Was the Right Decision"
Despite public backlash, the Norwegian authorities are standing firm by their decision. "I support the decision to euthanize Freya," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told public broadcaster NRK. "It was the right decision. I am not surprised that this has led to many international reactions. Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions."
"You cannot expect 1.6 million people not to swim in Oslo fjord," said zoologist Per Espen Fjeld. "People were out swimming and suddenly there it was, a meter away. If you get hit by even a little bit of 600kg of muscle and blubber, everyone knows what happens."