A Whale Sculpture in Paris Aims to Help Save Some Species
PARIS — A life-size installation of a giant blue whale has been erected on the Left Bank of the Seine, intended as a reminder to negotiators at the international climate conference here that the fate of threatened species is also in their hands. For the teams that built the 110-foot metal sculpture in the image of Bluebelle, as the great beast was named when caught a century ago, the message has also become a timely protest. On Dec. 1, as world leaders gathered here to address the climate conference, Japan’s whaling fleet set sail for its annual hunting season in the Antarctic.
“People who care about whales have come to us saying, ‘Have you heard the terrible news from Japan?’ ” said Pierre Douay, a wildlife photographer and one of the organizers of the blue whale installation.
Japan is not the only country to ignore public pleas and international conventions by continuing the centuries-old practice of killing whales; Iceland and Norway are among others. But critics say Japan is the only nation that labels its commercial hunt as “research.” And this month, when a factory ship and three fast harpoon vessels left Japan on their way to the Antarctic, the Japanese ignored a ban on this activity issued by the International Court of Justice, the United Nations court in The Hague.
Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986, but the International Whaling Commission made an exception for whale hunting for scientific research. However, in a case brought by Australia, the international court ruled in 2014 that, while Japan had killed thousands of whales since 1987 in the name of research, its program had produced little science and was therefore illegal under international law.
To sidestep the court ruling, Japan has renamed the program and reduced its hunting targets by two-thirds. But on the eve of the Paris summit meeting, it announced that to research the health of whales and their habitat, it plans to kill close to 4,000 minke whales in the Antarctic region over the next 12 years.
Conservationist groups here, including Un Cadeau pour la Terre (A Gift to the Earth) and Biome, which built Bluebelle and an attendant exhibit near the Pont des Invalides over the Seine, have seized on Japan’s latest move as further proof that only concerted international pressure can overrule narrow national interests and avert the rapid decline of many species.
Paul Watson, for one, is not waiting for diplomacy to work. A Canadian sea captain, he is a founder of Sea Shepherd, an international conservation group that sends ships to the icy waters of Antarctica to block and harass Japan’s whalers during each Southern Hemisphere summer.
“All whales must be protected,” he said while visiting Bluebelle here. “They are the farmers of the ocean. They bring up iron, nitrogen and other nutrients to the surface. They are part of a system that is millions of years old, and we are in the midst of destroying it.”
Visitors from India, the United States and Germany mingled on the bank of the Seine this weekend, strolling under the white belly of the majestic beast and along its giant blue-gray back and sides. Mr. Douay said that Bluebelle, caught by British whalers off South Georgia in the South Atlantic in 1912, was one of the largest blue whales on record and possibly one of the largest animals ever known.
Paris is only the first stop in Bluebelle’s campaign on behalf of threatened species. There are plans for it to travel around France and abroad, possibly as far as New York.
Jerome Pensu, one of the organizers, said visitors were upset not only about Japan’s whale killing, but also about the brutal way they are killed. People have seen films about whales, the world’s largest mammal, being dynamited and electrocuted, and thrashing in pain until they drown, he said.
Japan insists that it has scrapped fin whales and humpbacks from its list and that the minke whales it plans to kill are abundant. “We are confident we have completed our scientific homework,” Joji Morishita, a Japanese official, told journalists in Tokyo on Monday.
Japanese newspapers have reported that even though most people have lost interest in whale meat, the country wants to defend its tradition and not be seen as caving to foreign pressure. The government largely pays for the unprofitable business.
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