A 1,300-Pound Walrus Could Be Killed if She Endangers the Public
Norway has warned that it may have to kill a walrus named Freya out of concern that the 1,300-pound animal could harm the delighted onlookers who have been unable to stay away from her during her summer visit to the country’s coast.
People have been swimming close to Freya, throwing objects at her and posing for photos, sometimes with their children, Vegard Oen Hatten, a spokesman for the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, told The New York Times on Friday. The agency has warned people to stay away from the walrus, but if that doesn’t work, “there is a possibility to greenlight a controlled operation to put the animal down,” Mr. Hatten said.
There are other possible solutions, including moving Freya from the area, he added, while noting that killing Freya would be a “last resort.” No final decision has been made.
“She’s not aggressive,” said Rune Aae, who teaches biology at the University of South-Eastern Norway and regularly updates a Google map of Freya sightings. “But if she wants to play with you, you will lose, no matter what happens.”
For Freya, there seems to be no urgent reason to leave. She has plenty of food in the form of scallops and mussels, and she’s too young, at 5 years old, to give birth to a calf, Mr. Aae said. Female walruses generally give birth at around 9 or 10, and the animals can live to be about 40.
“She’s having a splendid time on her holiday down here,” Mr. Aae said.
Walruses are social animals and rarely venture somewhere alone, which may be why Freya seems to like being around people.
“She’s not afraid of us,” Mr. Aae said. “Maybe she thinks we’re her flock.”
Freya has been spotted off the coasts of Britain and various European countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark, for at least two years.
“This is a unique situation,” Mr. Hatten, the spokesman, said. “It’s the first time an animal has stayed out of their natural habitat for so long.”
Experts think that Freya is on her way back north, where she belongs. But finding her way may prove difficult, because Oslo Fjord, where she was most recently spotted, is a dead end on the way north. To get home, she first has to go back south, down to Denmark to cross over to Britain, before going back north.
“She has to turn around, and so far, she hasn’t done so,” Mr. Aae said. “She doesn’t have a map, she doesn’t know it’s a dead end.”
It’s not entirely unusual for a walrus to show up in northern Europe, and similar incidents have occurred before. Most years, at least one walrus can be spotted in European waters, said Dan Jarvis, the director of welfare and conservation at British Divers Marine Life Rescue.
Last year, another walrus, Wally, showed up off the coast of southwest England for about six weeks and climbed up on boats in a busy area of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago of more than 150 islands. Local officials provided him with a floating dock to lie on, because he destroyed the boats with his roughly 1,760-pound weight. There, too, people got too close and took pictures with him, causing potentially dangerous situations and leading to calls for his removal.
“He was coming to the busiest possible place,” Mr. Jarvis said.
There are roughly 225,000 walruses in the wild, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. They live in ice-covered waters in Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and Alaska. In their usual habitat, walruses haul themselves onto sheets of ice. In the case of Freya, she’s hauling herself onto piers and boats. Walruses are suffering from climate change in the form of melting ice sheets, which is causing them to lose some of that habitat.
If that keeps happening, Mr. Jarvis said, “they’re going to have to search further to find somewhere suitable.”