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Tribal leader calls for recognizing whales as people

The marine mammals should be given inherent human rights, the king of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people has urged

The king of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people has signed a ‘Declaration for the Ocean’ that calls for whales to be granted legal personhood as part of a plan to protect them, AFP reported on Thursday.

The declaration reportedly recognizes the mammals as legal persons with the inherent right to freedom of movement, natural behavior, and expression of their unique cultures. The declaration has been made with the intent of helping whales recover their depleted population.

“The sound of our ancestor’s song has grown weaker, and her habitat is under threat, which is why we must act now,” King Tuheitia Potatau te Wherowhero VII was quoted as saying.

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

Whales have traditionally had cultural significance for the Maori as supernatural beings and as harbingers of spiritual growth. Some tribes see the mammals as the descendants of Tangaroa, the god of the ocean.

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Whales are some of the largest mammals on earth, with blue whales reaching up to 30.5 meters (100 feet) in length and weighing up to 200 tons. Many of the species are endangered.

The move to grant whales personhood would not be without precedent. In 2017, New Zealand passed a groundbreaking law granting personhood status to the Whanganui River and Mount Taranaki volcano, both of which are important to the Maori people.

The Maori are the second-largest ethnic group in New Zealand and currently make up about 17% of the country’s total population, or about 900,000 people.

March 29, 2024 at 01:36AM

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