Freya the walrus was euthanized in the Oslo fjord 14 August, after which the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) was asked to perform post mortem examinations on the animal. The Natural History Museum in Oslo contacted NVI to discuss further use of the animal’s skeleton, as the museum has Norway's largest collection of natural history objects, which includes skeletons from wild animals. The Natural History Museum performs research on Arctic marine mammals, and their collections are used for both research and education purposes.
Knut Madslien is Head of Wildlife Health at NVI. He explains why the institute chose to deviate from standard procedure by transferring the skeleton of the walrus to the Natural History Museum.
"In this case, NVI's role is mainly through our veterinary expertise in pathology and disease diagnostics. However, by letting the bones come to further use, we facilitate further research and knowledge about walruses, and in that way contributing to increased knowledge in wild species," says Madslien.
Very rare occurrence
According to standard procedures, animal remains are usually destroyed after post mortem examination at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, as they will not be suitable for further use, and due to biohazard precautions. The fact that the bones in this case will be transferred to the Natural History Museum, is therefore a very rare occurrence.
"We chose to facilitate the possibilities for further use of the skeleton. The decision was partly based on the fact that Freya’s necropsy was requested without any suspicion of illness, the carcass has not been in contact with any other, potentially infectious carcasses. In addition, the Natural History Museum has good routines for infection control when handling remains such as this," says Madslien.
Associate Professor Kjetil Lysne Voje at the Natural History Museum in Oslo is responsible for their mammal collection. He explains how there are no plans to exhibit Freya's bones at the museum. When the bones have been preserved, they will be incorporated into the museum's scientific mammal collection, which is an important resource for researchers in Norway and abroad. Firstly, the skeleton will be frozen in order to plan the conservation.
"One of the main social responsibilities of the Natural History Museum is to ensure that valuable scientific material from our wildlife is taken care of for the future. The museum has a mammal collection consisting of about 35,000 objects,” Voje says.
"The walrus is on the Red List, and naturally, we have little material collected from the species. When a walrus is killed in the Oslo Fjord, it is natural to incorporate the skeleton, and a tissue sample of the animal, into our scientific collections. The bones will eventually become available for research and education purposes. When objects enter our collections, they will be taken care of for the unforeseeable future,” emphasizes Voje.
The results of the examinations performed the Norwegian Veterinary Institute will be communicated when the post mortem report is completed, which normally takes about 14 days.