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Walrus' fate sparks online outrage

Harsh accusations are being levelled against those responsible for caring for the marine mammal.

Mursu pelastusajoneuvon takana.
The animal in Kotka on Wednesday. Image: Juha Metso / AOP
Yle News

The death of a walrus that made headlines in Finland for several days has sparked social media controversy, resulting in harsh criticism of those in charge of assisting the animal.

News about the walrus' rare appearance on southern Finland shores first emerged last week, when the animal beached itself on a riverbank in the seaside town of Hamina. It swam away on its own, only to reappear a few days later in Kotka.

A decision was made to sedate the walrus in order to transport it to Helsinki's Korkeasaari Wildlife Hospital for urgent care. But the sea mammal died while in transit.

Online conversations about how the situation was handled has been fierce, particularly comments on Korkeasaari Zoo's Twitter account, which officially announced the animal's death.

Following an autopsy carried out on Thursday, experts said the walrus most likely died of starvation.

Irate social media users wondered, among other things, why the walrus was not taken into captivity immediately after it first appeared in Hamina and why it wasn't fed when it was likely to be malnourished.

"You can't really carry a walrus by the flippers"

Maiju Lanki, a marine biologist and zoologist who assisted the walrus in Kotka, said there are always more than two sides to a situation when dealing with nature, adding that shouting blame at others online is easy.

"This is coming from people who can't even feed their cats medicine without getting scratched. Can they imagine trying to feed a stressed walrus that doesn't want to eat?" Lanki wondered.

When Lanki arrived in Kotka to help the walrus, she noted that it was in very poor condition.

Many people have compared the walrus to a horse or a cow, which is easy to lift, according to Lanki.

"A walrus is like a sack with no limbs," Lanki said, explaining that the animal was difficult to contain for transport. "You can't really carry a walrus by the flippers either."

Salla Tuomivaara, a sociology researcher at the University of Turku, said the online discourse surrounding the walrus' death has been unusually accusatory and intense.

"The blame game of the personality-centred social media era is evident here. People are not thinking about this as a complex issue, they just want to find someone to blame," Tuomivaara said.

Different courses of action

The four veterinarians from Hamina noted in a joint statement issued on Friday that they had already considered several options for providing aid to the walrus.

Following instructions from the wildlife hospital, in attempts to be able to examine the walrus more closely, the vets said they added a tranquilliser to fish they tried feeding the animal. Those attempts were unsuccessful, however.

Zoo staff members and anaesthetists were unable to arrive before the walrus swam off sea, according to the vets, who noted that its close examination would only have been possible if it was sedated.

Ways to contain the walrus on the beach were also explored and discussed with zoo experts, the police, and the fire department, but no safe and effective methods were found, the vets' statement said.

"Disappointment is greater than walrus"

Many people following the tragic walrus saga had clearly hoped for a different outcome.

"It seems that the disappointment is greater than the walrus. Every human being knows that it was only one animal, after all. It seems that with these reactions, people are expressing a more general disappointment with the treatment of wild animals," sociologist Tuomivaara said.

The walrus is to be displayed as an exhibit at the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

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