Since mid-July, the internet has grown to love Freya the 1,300-pound walrus, who went viral after clips surfaced of her sunbathing on small boats, sinking them in the process.
However, on Sunday, the Norwegian government announced that it had killed her. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries argued that Freya needed to be euthanized due to the risks she posed to the crowds that gathered to watch and take photos of her. The agency also cited vague animal welfare concerns. “The walrus is not getting enough rest and the professionals we are in dialogue with believe she is stressed,” Nadia Jdaini, a senior communications adviser for the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, said in a statement to NBC News.
However, that assertion was later contradicted by Rune Aae, a biologist who had been following Freya’s movements throughout Northern Europe. According to NBC news, Aae told them that “Freya had not shown signs of stress…but instead seemed curious about people. He criticized authorities for not blocking off the areas where the walrus spent the most time, or trying to move her, despite fears that she could drown if an attempt to tranquilize her failed.”
According to The New York Times, Freya had been sighted along the coasts of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark in previous years. Before she was euthanized, Norwegian crowds had started to flock to see Freya, sometimes getting extremely close to the 1,300-pound walrus. Government officials also claim to have informed police of incidents where people attempted to swim up to the walrus.
However, despite their concerns, officials had originally claimed that euthanasia was “out of the question.” That message abruptly changed, with government officials deciding to quickly kill Freya on Sunday. Following public outcry, officials at the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries defended their decision.
“I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence,” Frank Bakke-Jensen, the director general of fisheries in Norway, said on Sunday. Others disagree. “I’m surprised by the speed of the decision” to kill her, Fredrik Myhre, a marine biologist for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Norway told The New York Times. “They should have been more patient.”
This case is just the latest instance of Norwegian government authorities deciding to kill big, inconvenient animals. The government has faced backlash in recent years for mass killings of critically endangered wolves, supposedly because they threaten livestock even though fewer than 100 wolves are thought to live in the country.
Further, as noted by NBC News, some have pointed out the hastiness of the government’s decision to kill Freya. Yes, the walrus was found at a populated beach outside Oslo. However, in Norway, children were set to return to school the day after the government killed her. Further, cold weather and torrential rain were predicted to hit the country shortly. Both factors would have massively thinned the crowds of admirers raised as justification for her euthanasia.
Government bureaucrats, it seems, tend to ruin anything they touch, including internet-famous walruses. Freya captured hearts and delighted onlookers—all without injuring anyone. Granted, she did cause property damage, though Norwegian officials did not cite that as a justification for killing her. It seems that the main reason for Freya’s death was that people liked her too much.
“She hasn’t done anything to anyone,” Oslo resident Trine Tandberg told The New York Times. “That’s what’s making so many of us really, really angry about this whole thing.”