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Indigenous people declare whales legal persons

They are gentle giants of the seas, but threatened worldwide. Indigenous people in New Zealand, Tahiti and the Cook Islands have recognized whales as legal entities and are now hoping that legislation will follow.

Angelika Henkel

Whales – they can be fascinating animals for holidaymakers. For the indigenous people of New Zealand, Tahiti and the Cook Islands, they are more. The Maori see a direct line of connection between themselves and the giants and consider the whales to be their ancestors. The whales taught them how to navigate the sea, it is said.

The indigenous people have agreed on a declaration that recognizes whales as legal persons – the Ocean Declaration. The Maori king signed it with other envoys from the Polynesian islands.

New Zealand conservation activist Mere Takoko was also there. She wants to ensure that whales get rights. “The right to freedom of movement, to express their natural behavior, freedom of language, a healthy environment, oceans and the restoration of their population.”

Whales endangered worldwide

The song of humpback whales still holds secrets that scientists have not yet deciphered. They also play an important role in the ecosystem. Some species are already considered critically endangered and are at risk of extinction. According to the Maori king, their singing has become weaker – so he urges action.

According to conservation organizations, around 10,000 whales die every year at the hands of ships. The activist Takoko hopes for a change in thinking: “The declaration first recognizes the dignity, the soul and changes the way we view the whale. It is not a resource that can be exploited.” Whales are still often seen like this at the moment.

Animals, lakes, forests as legal entities

The idea behind the Ocean Declaration: Whales are recognized as legal entities so that they have rights. In this case, that is still a wish – there are already legal regulations in other countries.

In In Costa Rica bees, in Panama a turtle, in Ecuador nature is legal entities.

Ralph Chami, co-founder of the organization “Blue Green Future”

And the list goes on: in 2014, New Zealand made a forest area a legal entity – in 2017, a river. Wanganui is thus recognized as an indivisible and living whole. This covers its entire course, from the mountains to the sea.

There are also lakes or forests with legal status in other places in the world. Chami hopes that Parliament will now also have corresponding regulations and suggests: “Anyone who meets a whale has to pay two million dollars – or they just look for another route.” If the declaration were to become a binding law, it could result in anyone violating the rights of whales having to pay a fine.

Angelika Henkel, NDR, tagesschau, April 9, 2024 1:05 p.m

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