Norway Kills Visiting Walrus Because People Wouldn't Stay Away
What could be quite as preposterous as killing a non-aggressive, non-threatening animal simply because people wouldn't keep away from it despite warnings? What was the animal's fault?
On August 14, 2022, Norway killed Freya, a 1300-pound walrus that had made the coast of Oslo Fjord her temporary home and had been lounging around for a week when the Norwegian authorities decided that killing her was the “right call”, adding that moving her was “too high risk”, implying that they were left with no option other than “euthanizing” her because she was a danger to the wellbeing of human beings.
What made her as dangerous as to be killed in human interest? Did she attack people? Did she hurt someone? Had someone come close to being hurt? Given that an animal was killed by a first-world nation that would not readily kill an animal without good cause, being supposedly more civilized, one would expect the answer to at least one or more of those questions to be in the affirmative. But, no, the answer really is a “no”.
The walrus was killed because, despite clear and repeated warnings, the human beings would not refrain from getting too close to the walrus and exposing themselves to the risk of injury even though Freya had shown no aggression towards anybody and had hurt not a soul. She was, in fact, something of a celebrity with the people, who enjoyed swimming alongside Freya and clicking selfies with her. And that was part of the problem, as the Norwegian authorities saw it. But whose problem was that? Surely not Freya’s.
Norwegian authorities had warned that Freya might have to be killed if the onlookers, who took much delight in Freya, failed to keep their distance from the animal while she was on her summer visit to the Norwegian coast. Vegard Oen Hatten of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries told The New York Times that people had been swimming a bit too close to Freya, hurling objects at her and posing for selfies with the animal in the background, and sometimes they even took children along for the experience. The Directorate had warned people to keep clear of the walrus and had said, speaking through Hatten, that if people continued to ignore the warning, “there is a possibility to greenlight a controlled operation to put the animal down.” But that had to be the “last resort”, they had insisted.
There had to be other options, and there were. Freya could be removed from the immediate vicinity of the people, or people could be stopped from going too close to the animal. None of it was done. The Directorate decided that Freya had to be killed simply because the human visitors to the coast could not keep away from Freya.
Rune Aae, a teacher of biology at the University of South-Eastern Norway, who also regularly updated a Google map displaying Freya sightings for those who might want to have that information, told that Freya was “not aggressive”. She seemed to enjoy the company of human beings. “She’s not afraid of us,” Aae said. “Maybe she thinks we’re her flock.” And her flock killed her. What could be sadder?
Walruses, being social animals, very rarely strike out on their own, and it was probably because they are social animals that Freya liked hanging around people, and people liked being around her right back. And that’s essentially why she is no more, having been killed by the human beings because they liked having her around so much. How baffling is that?
She had done nothing to harm anybody and while walruses can hurt people, if they get to it, Freya had done no such thing and had not displayed aggression against anybody. She was, at the very best, potentially dangerous. Did she have to be killed for just being a well-liked walrus?
Freya hung around for so long just because she had no dearth of food with plenty of scallops and mussels around and she was also too young, at 5 years old, to breed. The breeding age for female walruses is about 9 or 10, and Freya was half that age. Walruses go on to live for 40 years or so.
While it might have been a bit unusual for her to have “stayed out of their natural habitat for so long”, as Directorate’s spokesperson, Hatten, put it, this was not a situation altogether unheard of so far as northern Europe goes.
Last year, Wally, another walrus, turned up off the coast of southwest England and went about climbing onto the boats in the Isles of Scilly, which is a busy area and an archipelago of over 150 islands, but the authorities here were way more patient than their Norwegian counterparts. They arranged a floating dock for Wally to lie on so that it did not have to climb boats, damaging them with his 1,760 pounds of body weight. Experts were of the view that Wally tried to climb boats because he felt lonely.
However, it was much the same with people there as in Norway. People went too close and took pictures with the animal, creating dangerous situations, which spurred the demand for Wally’s removal. But the authorities remained patient, and soon enough Wally ended his vacation in the Isles of Scilly. At Wally’s departure, Scott Reid, a resident of the Isles of Scilly and a wildlife enthusiast, tweeted: "Wally has finally left us! He brought so much joy to the islands during his prolonged visit, he’ll be missed! Enjoy your stay in Ireland big fella. Safe travels. #Walrus”.
Wally didn’t need to be killed. And Freya was no different from Wally. It seemed that she was on her way back north, which could have been difficult, for Oslo Fjord happens to be a dead end to the north, but Freya carried no maps and couldn’t have known that she had to turn around and go back south to Denmark, cross over to Britain before heading back north, where she belonged. And now she is dead.
Norway’s Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, found it in him to say that he supported the conclusion, calling it “the right decision.” “I am not surprised that this has led to many international reactions. Norway is a maritime nation, sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions. I myself have been in discussions about minke whales and seals. These reactions are not new,” the Prime Minister reportedly said.
That sounds extraordinarily casual and cold. Unpardonably so, in fact.