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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Meet Freya the walrus, Norway’s summer celebrity

Freya is choosing empty boats on which to sleep and digest her food because they remind her of Arctic ice floes, Kathrine Ryeng, a veterinary medicine scientist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research, told NBC News.

People should give Freya a wide berth and park vessels so they’re harder for her to climb into, said Ryeng, who has been advising the Directorate of Fisheries on how to keep Freya, the public and their property safe. The walrus seems to be in good health and is only dangerous if you get too close, especially in the water itself.

“These animals are like potato sacks on a floating device, but like acrobats in water,” she said.

While nobody has been injured by Freya’s antics, she is causing a headache for emergency services and boat owners.

“We have been in contact with the insurance company, and they probably do not cover walrus damage,” owner Tuva Schøyen Grue, 20, told Norwegian broadcaster TV 2 after Freya’s encounter with her inflatable boat in the city of Stabbestad.

Despite the material damage Freya has caused so far, as a protected species in Norway, “euthanasia is out of the question,” the Directorate of Fisheries said in a statement Tuesday, when Freya returned to Oslo after a few days east.

Although not ruling out relocating her if “the situation worsens,” the directorate is encouraging Norwegians to “be considerate and keep their distance.”

Freya’s fame may have peaked this summer, but she has been spotted as early as 2019, said Rune Aae, a doctoral student in science didactics at the University of South-Eastern Norway. Aae has mapped Freya’s journey through photos uploaded by scientists and amateur photographers to online databases and social media.

According to Aae’s map of sightings, Freya has visited the coasts of Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands and the Shetland Islands in the last three years.

Her small tusks, white scar on her right nostril and previous injury on her flipper allow Aae to distinguish between Freya and previous sightings of fellow celebrity walruses Wally and Stena, who embarked on their own European tours for several years before returning to the Arctic to settle down.

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