Parisians Awoke This Weekend To Find A 'Beached Whale' On The Banks Of The Seine

The stunt came with an important message.

There are quite a few places in the world you wouldn't expect to find a beached sperm whale, but one place that definitely makes the list is Paris, France. And yet that's what citizens and tourists discovered over the weekend on the banks of the Seine River, within sight of Notre Dame Cathedral.

While some passersby were initially fooled, the animal's appearance was actually part of a stunt by a Belgian artist collective called Captain Boomer — and no whales were harmed to create it. The animal was completely fake, if extremely realistic, down to the smell.

It's not the first place these "beached whales" have appeared. Captain Boomer (named after a character in Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick) has pulled similar stunts in the U.K., Spain, and other European countries. And it's not just for shock value; according to the collective's website, they work with real scientists to deliver "ample information about sperm whales and why they beach" to passersby. The project, which is installed overnight, seeks to raise awareness about the environment.

"The beaching of a whale has always been a magical event. Villages trembled and were exhilarated when it happened," explains the Captain Boomer website. "This is what we reconstruct. At the same time the beached whale is a gigantic methaphor [sic] for the disruption of our ecological system."

Artist Tim Van Noten kept up the illusion when speaking to the press at the site of the Paris installation. "This happens fairly often, but not in Paris," he says in a video from Agence France-Presse. "He came up and got stuck over there by the bridge. The firemen were called and they pulled him out with a crane."

The installation received positive responses from social media users, some of whom were there in person, as well as others who simply thought it was a powerful idea.

A mother and daughter told Agence France-Presse that they were initially fooled by the project, but were impressed when they learned the truth. 

"Of course I had to look it up and I saw it was a sculpture, and I was like, that's amazing!" the mother told the organization. "And it's like a really neat thing that they did to bring awareness."

Although the cause of whale and dolphin strandings is not always determinable, according to Scientific American, some activists have suggested that human activity may have led to a rise in their "frequency and severity." As neuroethologist Darlene Ketten told the publication in 2009, "If there is an activity humans are doing precipitating these strandings we need to know about it—we need to make decisions about pollutants, shipping noise and sonar."

It's not the first creative attempt at helping the environment. One photographer recently saved all his recyclable trash to show how much humans waste. In 2015, a campaign in London kept cigarette butts off the streets by asking citizens to use them as votes for their favorite soccer player.

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