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Freya the walrus euthanized to protect crowds in Norway's Oslo Fjord

Freya the walrus, seen in Frognerkilen Bay in Norway on July 20, was euthanized to protect humans after Norway officials said scores of sightseers were getting too close to the animal. Photo by Trond Reidar Teigen/EPA-EFE
Freya the walrus, seen in Frognerkilen Bay in Norway on July 20, was euthanized to protect humans after Norway officials said scores of sightseers were getting too close to the animal. Photo by Trond Reidar Teigen/EPA-EFE

Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Norwegian officials have euthanized a 1,500-pound walrus named Freya over concerns the large marine mammal could hurt sightseers who flocked to Oslo Fjord to watch her sunbathe.

Freya was euthanized on Sunday after the Norwegian government warned the public to stay away. Norway's prime minister said it was the "right decision."

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"I support the decision to euthanize Freya," Jonas Gahr Store told the public broadcaster NRK Monday. "It was the right decision. I am not surprised that this has led to many international reactions. Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions."

Freya the walrus arrived in Oslo Harbor July 17 and could often be seen sunbathing on small boats, some of which she was blamed for sinking. Observers named her Freya after the Norse goddess of beauty and love.

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Walruses are protected species and usually live closer to the Arctic. Norwegian government spokesperson Nadia Jdaini said the animal's sheer size made her a danger for sightseers if they got too close.

Jdaini said people had been seen swimming with the walrus and approaching it with children to take photographs. There were other reports that people were throwing things at Freya and surrounding her in large numbers.

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"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," Norway's Directorate of Fisheries said in a statement. "Therefore, the Directorate has concluded, the possibility for potential harm to people was high and animal welfare was not being maintained."

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Despite concerns for humans, animal rights activists criticized the decision to euthanize Freya. Biologist Rune Aae told the Norwegian news agency it was sad the walrus had to be put down "simply because we did not behave properly with it." Siri Marinsen of the animal rights group NOAH said onlookers should have been fined first.

People "behaved like idiots faced with nature," said Truls Gulowsen of the Nature Conservation Association. "Elsewhere, authorities managed to keep them away, and people managed to show consideration. But here in Oslo fjord, no one could be bothered -- so we kill it instead."

The Directorate of Fisheries said it considered all possible solutions, including relocating Freya, but were concerned about the animal's well being and Freya's health, which had deteriorated recently.

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"We have sympathies for the fact that this decision can cause reactions with the public, but I am firm that this was the right call," Frank Bakke-Jensen, the head of the directorate, said in a statement. "We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence."

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