It wasn’t a sight for the fainthearted.
On Friday, Parisians woke to find a massive sperm whale beached along the river Seine, drawing some shock and concern from some passersby.
Fortunately for animal lovers, the giant carcass, which was seen being tended to by people in white jumpsuits, was a fake ― though the object of a very real concern.
Belgian artist collective Captain Boomer, which took responsibility for the stirring display, said they carried out the performance art to raise awareness about the beaching of whales and dolphins and how humans play a role.
To assist in delivering this message, artists dressed up like forensic scientists and pretended to perform tests on the animal while others interacted with the public.
“This happens fairly often, but not in Paris,” artist Tim Van Noten told Agence France-Presse, while pretending the exhibit was real. “He came up and got stuck over there by the bridge. The firemen were called and they pulled him out with a crane.”
The intricate stunt appeared to fool some of the spectators who were looking from a distance.
“It makes me very sad because for an animal like this to leave the Atlantic to end up here means that there is a problem,” a Parisian identified only as Anastasia told The Sun. “What’s the problem? Is it our fault, us humans, that animals die like this? I don’t know.”
Another onlooker Charles Jean, speaking to The Associated Press, expressed sarcasm, asking whether the whale climbed down onto the quay with a ladder.
Though there’s much debate over the reason behind whale strandings, humans’ impact on their food sources and diet has been eyed as reasons, with some beached whales found with plastic in their stomachs. Environmental groups say sonar on naval ships has also disrupted whales feeding and communication.
“It’s an artistic way of making people aware of the environment,” Bert Van Peel, the founder of Captain Boomer, told Le Figaro of the whale art. “These hyperrealist sculptures are an immense metaphor for the dysfunction of our ecological system.”
According to the artists’ website, the collective, which has performed similar stunts before, teams up with actual scientists to help deliver information about sperm whales and why they beach.
“The audience witnesses a scientific intervention. Autopsy, sampling, dissection, etc are acted out in detail. We also show people parasites, teeth and samples of skin and (real) spermaceti oil,” the website states.