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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Memorial to a walrus draws visitors

It’s been just over a year since an orphaned walrus who swam into the hearts of thousands of Norwegians last summer ended up being killed by Norwegian authorities. A new, privately financed memorial to the walrus called Freya has helped fill her absence this summer.

The large bronze replica of Freya rests at the end of a breakwater at Frognerkilen in Oslo, just across the harbour from some of Norway’s monuments to Arctic exploration at Bygdøy (far left). The scupture was unveiled late last spring and steadily draws small groups of Freya’s fans, often paying tribute by laying down flowers or handwritten messages.

The memorial created by sculptor Astri Tonoian also includes a message of its own that refers to “the sins” tied to how humans confront something new or unknown. The plaque notes how Freya’s death at the hands of Norway’s fisheries directorate “raised important ethical questions” about human relations to, and knowledge of, nature.

Experts believe Freya was separated from her mother in the Arctic waters off Northern Norway, forcing the young but large walrus to try to find her own way. She first started appearing in boat harbours along the Norwegian coast, then as far south as the Netherlands before making a major splash in the popular coastal town of Kragerø. Then she continued swimming up the coast to Oslo.

She fascinated specators but also caused some damage as she sank her tusks into inflatable rafts to drag herself up on them, or other pleasure boats and floating docks, for a nap. The artists and environmental advocates who launched a fundraising effort for the memorial to Freya also used the walrus’ fate as a symbol of, according to them, “how nature is sacrificed to accommodate human civilization.”

They raised NOK 270,000 from 1,641 donors for the sculpture that also reminds visitors of the joy Freya spread when she surfaced at marinas and beach parks. Some spectators became perhaps overly eager to greet her, prompting authorities to consider her a risk to public safety. Some believed Freya became stressed by all the attention she received, and could react dangerously.

She nonetheless joined the ranks of other exotic marine species who’ve seemed to seek human companionship, including whales Keiko and, more recently, Hvaldimir. Commentator Halvor Hegtun, writing in newspaper Aftenposten, urged readers to visit Freya’s memorial, suggesting it can become “a monument to Norwegians’ relation to nature and its biological diversity.”

TEXT AND PHOTOS: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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