Last Friday morning Paris citizens – and tourists – woke up with a big astonishing view: a 50-foot-long sperm whale beached on the banks of the Seine River. Same look and same smell, people said, and it’s attracting the attention of everyone and real scientists are gathering together on the spot.
How could a whale beach in Paris, outside its natural environment?
“The sperm whale belongs to the suborder of toothed whales and dolphins (odontocetes) and is one of the easiest whales to identify at sea. Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic and prefer deep water. They can be found in large numbers where food is abundant, and where the sea temperature suits them.
This species has been drastically affected by commercial whaling in the past and numbers are thought to have been decimated. Sperm whales are still threatened by hunting. They are at risk from human disturbance and whaling, chemical and noise pollution and entanglement in fishing nets.”
So, what was a sperm whale doing in a river?
The mystery was resolved when it turned out to be an art installation by a group of Belgian artists who founded the “Captain Boomer Collective” in 2008.
The aim is to raise and spread awareness about whales and how we, humans, affect them on their habitat. Captain Boomer Collective created a life-size, hyper-real statue of a sperm whale and they are placing it on shores and river banks of the old world. As stated by the creators, “the beached whale is a gigantic metaphor for the disruption of our ecological system. Thanks to this art installation people can feel that their bond with nature is disturbed.”
The sculpture is so real that it stirs and mobilises the local communities. It boosts an intensive interaction among the crowd. Everyone feels involved, whatever is the social or cultural background.
Thanks to the presence of scientists, people are supplied with information about sperm whales and why they beach. This sculpture allows the audience to witness a scientific intervention: autopsy, sampling, dissection and more acted out in detail. They also show people parasites, teeth and samples of skin and (real) spermaceti oil. That’s why the site is often very popular with school classes and children.
According to the Mirror, the model is on display until Sunday, before being moved to another European capital.
Hopefully this project will educate people about sperm whales, so that humans will start to respect much more their planet – and themselves. In the meantime, you can reach Captain Boomer Collective on their official Facebook page.