Indigenous Leaders Sign Treaty Granting Whales Legal Personhood

View of a gray whale in the Pacific Ocean in Los Cabos, Baja California state, Mexico on F

A number of indigenous leaders across the Pacific have signed a treaty granting all whales legal personhood in an effort to protect whale populations from the effects of climate change, NPR reported Wednesday.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is to provide whales with certain rights,” said Mere Takoko, a conservationist who founded the Hinemoana Halo Ocean Initiative that spearheaded this treaty.

“Those rights include the right to freedom of movement, to natural behavior development, to cultural expression, which includes their language, to a healthy environment, healthy oceans, and, indeed, the restoration of their populations,” she stated.

The agreement is intended as groundwork for legislation to protect whales, which are considered sacred ancestors by some indigenous Polynesians.

“We have very intimate relationships with them, so they’re a huge part of our culture, a huge part of our narrative,” Takoko said, adding that without whales, “the web of all marine life would collapse.”

Among the signers of the treaty were Kiingi Tuheitia and Tou Travel Ariki, head of House Ariki in the Cook Islands.

“The sound of our ancestor’s song has grown weaker, and her habitat is under threat, which is why we must act now, Kiingi Tuheita said at the signing event in Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye. Whales play a vital role in the health of our entire ocean ecosystem,” echoed Tou Travel Ariki. “We must act with urgency to protect these magnificent creatures before it’s too late.”

Mere Takoko contends that rising ocean temperatures from climate change have disrupted whales’ migratory patterns.

Whales often wander into the paths of ships, said NPR host Steve Inskeep, resulting in the deaths of thousands every year by ship strikes. One benefit of enacting legal protections of personhood for whales would be the creation of an effective economic deterrent to such deaths.

“You hit the whale, you pay $2 million, or you slow down and change direction,” said Ralph Chami, the lead economist behind this initiative.

“It goes into effect immediately. Now, the issue is how to enforce it,” Chami said.

According to the activists, the same tactic has been used elsewhere to protect nature.

“In Costa Rica, they confer personhood on bees. In Panama, they confer personhood on leatherback turtles. In Ecuador, nature has rights,” Chami noted, while both New Zealand and Bangladesh have granted rivers personhood.

“So this whole thing is to make, in this case, the whale visible,” Chami said.


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