A walrus is not a usual visitor in a European capital. When this massive marine mammal with tusks and whiskers showed up swimming casually amongst clueless Norwegians in Oslo fjord, it made a splash in all ways possible, including in the media.
According to the Guardian, a female walrus was seen deflating and bending boats in search of an ideal spot under the Nordic sun and getting cosy on the damaged vessels. The walrus, still a teenager, weighs ‘only’ 600kg (1,300lb). Enchanted Scandinavians nicknamed the animal Freya after the Norse goddess of love and beauty.
Freya the traveller
Freya has been sighted off the coasts of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden in the previous years. She has also been tracked along Norway's coast for months. Before showing up in Oslo, the animalgained notoriety by climbing onto pleasure boats in Kragero, an idyllic southern coastal village.
Kathrine Ryeng, of Norway's Institute of Marine Research, said that the possibly home-sick mammal searches for empty boats 'to sleep and digest her food in because they remind her of Arctic ice floes'. Walruses are known for sleeping for up to 20 hours a day.
Enchanting but destructive
Norwegian authorities are concerned about the damage inflicted by Freya and a threat to the public.
Rolf Harald Jensen, representing the fisheries, said while standing next to a hapless inflatable boat buckling under the animal’s weight:
It’s a pity about the material damage, but that’s the way it is when you have wild animals.
The officials warned that even though walruses 'do not normally pose a danger to humans', they can attack when threatened or disturbed.
After considering moving or even euthanizing Freya, they decided to leave her in peace.
Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries wrote:
We are continuing our observation work to gain knowledge about grazing and resting patterns. The best thing is if nature takes its course and she has moved away from areas with a lot of people.
Norwegians adore their celebrity visitor, and no one was harmed by Freya, if you don't count a stressed duck she was chasing and an attacked swan.
Is Freya a victim of climate change?
The walrus is a protected species that normally live in the more northerly latitudes of the Arctic, and it is unclear why and how Freya strayed away from her natural habitat.
Climate change, where sea loss limits the animal's access to the Arctic's icy waters, could be a reason for Freya's summer vacation.
WWF writes that melting sea ice means more walruses are resting on land, further from their feeding grounds, and this can be deadly for young calves like Freya. As the Arctic opens up to more human-made noise, these marine mammals are at greater threat of stampedes.