A European summer vacation is a dream for most people. The getaway will undoubtedly bring you to majestic places to forget your worries for a while. Soaking under the warm sun in beach towns and islands with beautiful waters makes the vacation a healing trip. Not to mention the friendships you can form with the people you’ll encounter during the vacation. And for some tourists or locals who met Wally the Walrus, it was the plot twist of their trip and a story worth mentioning.
Wally is a friendly Walrus who surprises tourists on their boats or yachts. Apparently, he is an Atlantic seal who began his European vacation journey in 2021. His vacation went on for six months in Western Europe — where he met many people due to his unexpected visits. Wally’s first itinerary was in Ireland. People were puzzled by his appearance since Wally was the first Walrus ever spotted there. For this reason, Seal Rescue Island involved themselves to ensure Wally was safe in unfamiliar waters.
“It was thrilling, but also it was very sad because he’s not supposed to be here,” Melanie from Seal Rescue Island said. “He’s just hanging out, enjoying the sunshine. There’s quite a few people around. I think everyone was just fascinated. It was a blessing and a curse because he didn’t understand it was very dangerous to be near us.” Aside from the dangers of getting close to humans, the rescue team’s main concern was that Wally might not find a safe place to rest. As the location wasn’t his natural habitat, his survival might be at risk. Seal Rescue Island immediately thought of a plan, and it was to foster a safe spot wherever Wally appeared.
A few days after, Wally continued his trip and stayed in Wales. With his surprise appearance, another rescue ensured Wally was safe during his exploration. The British Divers Marine Life Rescue created materials as a PSA for anyone who encountered the traveling Walrus. They had to place reminders in different places about the dos and don’ts when Wally was nearby.
“He had no fear of people coming up close to him or coming in amongst people and hauling out in harbors. So, there was a lot of effort that went into getting out on messaging how we needed to act around him to keep him safe,” Dan from British Divers Marine Life Rescue explained. All the organizations involved in keeping Wally safe followed him throughout his trip. But after his appearance in Cornwall, he disappeared. Thankfully, he was found in La Rochelle and swam his way to Spain.
It became more worrisome when the team concluded that Wally was going further South, which was not the right direction for him. The traveling Walrus might have been just exploring places or looking for his fellow Walruses. However, after Spain, Wally again disappeared — this time, it was for two weeks. But then reports showed that he had made his stop on the Isles of Scilly. Wally was unstoppable and became more determined to ride on boats. According to Dan, they assume that Wally was climbing on boats since, in the Arctic, walruses haul out on floating ice.
More problems started to arise when Wally began to affect people’s businesses. “Once he started sinking boats, we became increasingly concerned that someone would harm him,” says Melanie. BDMLR thought of a plan to safely keep Wally from harm’s way — a pontoon might be the right solution. Thankfully, Wally became accustomed to the floating bed and rested a lot on it. His journey did not end there, as he returned to Ireland, and it alarmed the rescue teams when they couldn’t spot Wally for days, especially during a storm.
Reports about a Walrus in Iceland reached the rescue organizations. After taking a good look at the photos, it was a relief to know that it was Wally. His return to Iceland was a good sign, since he went in the right direction. By now, he might be back in the Arctic — safe and sound with his fellow Walruses. Wally’s European trip was a mixture of amazement and worries. It was amazing that he survived the journey in unfamiliar waters with the possibility that humans might harm him. But in the end, he must have missed home and realized that those six months were enough.
Surprisingly, another Walrus was also spotted in European waters — her name was Freya. The female Walrus traveled much longer than Wally, as she started in 2019. According to Melanie, Freya had roughly the same trip as Wally, and both weren’t scared of humans. Melanie explained that Walruses are naturally friendly animals and can fearlessly interact with people.
Unfortunately, Freya’s ending was not similar to Wally’s — she wasn’t able to come back home. “We were absolutely devastated to learn that the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries decided to euthanize Freya. It was reportedly to prevent potential injuries to members of the public who refused to maintain safe distance from her,” Melanie shared. Both rescue teams believe it was unnecessary and could’ve been avoided with proper crowd management.
The story of these two Walruses may serve as a lesson. When an unfamiliar animal ends up at your place, you must keep your distance. They are not an attraction and are probably as confused as you are. The rescue teams hope that Freya will be the last walrus whose life ends up in human hands. Let traveling walruses find their way back home on their own and inform rescue organizations to resolve issues in the safest way possible.
This article by Ergil Ermeno was first published by The Animal Rescue Site.
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