Norway was right to take down Freya the walrus, says prime minister | Norway

The Norwegian Prime Minister has said it was “right” to kill Freya, a 600 kg (1,300 lb) female walrus euthanized in the Oslo fjord on Sunday when animal rights activists attacked the decision, but a leading zoologist insisted that it was inevitable.

“I support the decision to euthanize Freya,” Jonas Gahr Store told public broadcaster NRK on Monday. “It was the right decision. I’m not surprised that this has led to a lot of international reactions. Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions.”

Named after the Norse goddess of beauty and love, Freya had become a popular attraction since she arrived in the waters off the Norwegian capital on July 17, where crowds approached to watch as she basked in the sun or fell asleep on boats. .

Norway’s Fisheries Directorate said the walrus was euthanized “on the basis of an overall assessment of the threat to human safety” after the public ignored warnings not to get too close to her, often with small children, to pose for photos. .

Other reports showed people swimming with the walrus, throwing things at her and surrounding her in droves. On one occasion, police had to evacuate and close down a beach town after Freya chased a woman into the sea.

The agency concluded that “the potential for potential harm to humans was high and animal welfare was not maintained”. The director, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said other solutions, including moving Freya elsewhere, could not guarantee her safety.

“There have been too many dangerous situations,” he told Norwegian tabloid VG, adding that while the agency understood that the decision “could cause reactions from the public”, he was “determined that this was the right decision. We have great respect for animal welfare, but human lives and safety must come first.”

Walruses normally live much further north, in Arctic waters, but Freya had previously been spotted in the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. Opponents of the decision to euthanize her, which caused a stir on social media, said more should have been done to prevent it.

Siri Martinsen of the animal rights organization NOAH said spectators should have been fined first, and biologist Rune Aae told the Norwegian news agency it was “infinitely sad” that an animal had been euthanized “just because we didn’t behave well with it”.

Christian Steel of the environmental group Sabima told the NRK that it was essential that the directorate released full documentation about who made the decision to euthanize Freya, and on what grounds.

“The directorate can’t keep this a secret to make it easy on itself,” Steel said. “They have a reason for it. There must have been professionals in the photo who estimated that this animal was stressed.”

Eivind Trædal, a member of Oslo City Council, told VG the decision to take down the walrus was “a collective failure”, while Truls Gulowsen of the Conservation Society called the decision “shameful”.

People “behaved like idiots to nature,” Gulowsen said. “Otherwise the authorities managed to keep them away, and people managed to show consideration. But here in the fjord of Oslo nobody cared, so we kill him instead.”

However, zoologist Per Espen Fjeld told VG on Monday that it was “clear” Freya would eventually have to be euthanized, adding that the decision was completely justified and had no implications for the future of the species.

“You can’t expect 1.6 million people not to swim in the Oslo fjord,” he said. “People were swimming and suddenly it was there, a meter away. If you get hit by even a little bit of 600kg of muscle and blubber, everyone knows what happens.”

Espen Fjeld, senior adviser to the Norwegian Environmental Agency and Nature Inspectorate, said animals can be dangerous and that sometimes it was necessary to kill them, “as long as that does not endanger the survival of the population. There are 30,000 walruses in the North Atlantic.”

He said it was far more important to care for a species’ habitat — for example, by halting oil and gas exploration in the Barents Sea — than trying to care for one individual animal that had strayed far from home.

Espen Fjeld said Freya had caused a “Bambi effect”. “It becomes a concern, it is given a name, it is referenced in human terms,” ​​he said. “But taking care of this person really has nothing to do with taking care of the walrus population.”

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