Town cancels New Year’s fireworks to avoid waking sleeping walrus named Thor

9-year-old boy approaches an unfamiliar police officer and discreetly hands over a note
Cover Image Source: Facebook/British Divers Marine Life Rescue

In order to avoid causing any disturbance to a walrus named Thor who was resting on the shores of a seaside town, the Scarborough Borough Council took additional measures this New Year. Upon Thor’s sighting on the afternoon of December 30 in North Yorkshire, the town decided to cancel its planned New Year’s fireworks. According to Sky News, Thor is thought to have halted at the town to rest during his journey up north, having been spotted previously on the Hampshire coastline in December 2022 and even as far away as Brittany, France.

Due to concerns expressed by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue that the loud noises and bright lights of the fireworks could cause distress to Thor, the fireworks were cancelled. The organization had earlier established a cordon around the area where the marine mammal was resting and requested that people not disturb it. While council leader Steve Siddons expressed disappointment about the cancellation of the fireworks, he told The Guardian that he felt the welfare of the walrus needed to take priority.

Stuart Ford, the owner of the Sealife Safari boat tour agency, reported to the BBC that he saw Thor while walking to his boat. “There it was on the slipway – magnificent. It’s got to be half a ton,” he exclaimed.  “I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, first-time-ever thing in Scarborough to see.” Thor’s presence drew a large crowd who were able to witness some of the walrus’s playful behavior.

Although RSPCA inspector Geoff Edmond noted that the walrus did not appear to be ill or injured, he advised curious onlookers to view him from a respectful distance. He emphasized that while it may be exciting and uncommon to have the walrus temporarily residing there, it is in his best interests to be left alone as much as possible. As a wild animal, people should avoid the temptation to approach him and cause any disturbance.

Edmond also emphasized that it is important to note that the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 protects the walrus, and disturbing the animal could potentially result in legal consequences. Thor was captured on video returning to the sea on New Year’s Day, slowly making his way towards the water, plopping in, and swimming away.

Chris Cook, a representative of the BDMLR charity, stated that it is highly unusual for an Arctic walrus to come ashore on the Yorkshire coast. In an interview with the BBC after Thor was seen on the south coast of England earlier in December 2022, Rod Downie of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that while the sighting of the mammal was exceptionally rare, it was not without precedent.

Downie further stated that the walrus is a young “vagrant” who is traveling alone, and may have journeyed from as far as the Canadian Arctic. Despite their preference for colder waters, walruses are capable of surviving in British waters, as they can feed on their typical diet of clams and mussels found on the seabed.

Additionally, he drew attention to a problem caused by climate change. He stated that the Arctic region is experiencing the consequences of climate change at a much faster pace than anywhere else. The walruses, which are at the forefront of climate change, are facing significant challenges as sea ice continues to decrease. Since walruses prefer colder waters, it would be illogical to observe a rise in their numbers here, as they would naturally migrate further north towards colder waters as the Arctic waters warm up.