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Norway euthanizes Freya — the walrus that drew crowds

Norwegian authorities have killed a walrus that was drawing large numbers of human onlookers. They said it was necessary because people had failed to heed warnings that their safety could be in danger.

 Freya the walrus sitting on a boat in Frognerkilen in Oslo

The decision to euthanize Freya drew criticism that it was a hasty overreaction

Norwegian authorities killed a popular walrus due to safety concerns, they announced on Sunday.

Norway's Directorate of Fisheries said Freya was euthanized early on Sunday "based on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety."

The 600-kilogram (1,320-pound) marine mammal, affectionately known as Freya, had become a popular attraction over recent weeks.

The sightings were unusual because walruses normally live much further north, in Arctic waters.

What reason was given?

Officials had repeatedly warned that people should refrain from getting too close and posing for pictures with the animal.

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

Norway's Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen said in a statement that all other possible solutions had been examined, including moving Freya elsewhere. "We concluded that we could not guarantee the well-being of the animal by any of the means available," he said.

Bakke-Jensen said that ultimately, human safety had to take precedence.

"We have sympathies for the fact that the decision can cause reactions with the public, but I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence.''

'Freya' the walrus stirs up a Norwegian town

However, opponents of the decision said more should have been done to take the animal's well-being into account.

A spokeswoman for animal rights group NOAH, Siri Martinsen, told Norway's TV2 television channel that the measure had been rushed. She said fines should have been issued to disperse the onlookers.

Biologist Rune Aae told the NTB news agency it was "infinitely sad that they chose to euthanize such a beautiful animal simply because we did not behave well with it."

The Blue Planet Society group — which campaigns to protect the world's oceans — branded the decision "utterly disgraceful."

An international traveler

Freya — whose name refers to the Norse goddess of beauty and love — was first spotted in the waters of the Norwegian capital in mid-July.

She had already found fame climbing onto pleasure boats in Kragero, an idyllic southern coastal village.

Her exploits, which included chasing a duck and attacking a swan, intrigued locals and made headlines in the press. Mostly though, she would simply bask on boats — walruses can sleep for up to 20 hours per day.

Despite repeated appeals from the authorities, interested onlookers continued to approach her, sometimes with children and sometimes in the water.

Before settling in the Oslo Fjord, Freya was spotted in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands — where she relaxed on a Dutch naval submarine — and Denmark.

rc/aw (AFP, dpa, AP)