Rare visitor: Walrus spotting off Normandy coast in France, thousands of kilometres from Arctic home

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By Euronews  with Reuters
FILE: The walrus named 'Sten' by the public is seen outside the village of Arild in the Skalderviken bay area in the south west of Sweden on June 11, 2022.
FILE: The walrus named 'Sten' by the public is seen outside the village of Arild in the Skalderviken bay area in the south west of Sweden on June 11, 2022.   -   Copyright  AFP

A walrus was spotted in the northern French port of Dieppe in Normandy, thousands of kilometres away from its natural habitat around the Arctic Circle. 

The sea mammal, usually found in Greenland, Russia or Alaska, is a protected species which feeds mainly on invertebrates like molluscs, shrimp, crabs and small fish.

Local authorities cordoned off the area over the weekend to protect the tusked animal, which was resting onshore, according to a picture tweeted by the prefecture -- although it was observed diving on Saturday and hasn't been seen again. 

"Walruses are fearful [of humans] but still wild animals," the prefecture cautioned, saying that wildlife groups had been alerted, and the walrus was believed to be in good health.

The walrus is the latest in a series of animals from cold Arctic seas that have strayed in French waters this year. A beluga whale died in the Seine river in August, a few months after a terminally-ill killer whale died in the same river.

Norwegian walrus sightings end in tragedy

A walrus captivated Norway over the summer, with Arctic visitor Freya making quite a splash with her habit of clambering onto small boats and dinghies that were docked in harbours along the coast. 

After becoming a media celebrity in the Nordic nation, and around the world, Freya's 15 minutes of fame came to a tragic end. 

Authorities had to euthanize the animal in August after officials said she was putting people's lives at risk and was herself in distress.

Critics of the decision say it was too hasty, though authorities claim it was the only "viable" option. 

Walruses are native to the Arctic circle. However, Freya ended up loitering in Oslo's Frognerkilen bay, having been spotted in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Scotland beforehand. There were also separate sightings of other walruses in Sweden and Finland during the summer. 

The presence of the young female in Norway, weighing 700 kilos, was the subject of concern for some people, who said she was damaging boats.

Authorities had warned that Freya could be euthanised if the public did not stay away from the mammal.