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Maaori King leads call to give legal personhood to whales

Polynesian leaders have signed an historical declaration – He Whakaputanga Moana -calling for whales to be granted legal personhood and outlining a comprehensive plan for their protection.

The declaration has been signed by the Māori King, Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau te Wherowhero VII, and the Kaumaiti Nui, Travel Tou Ariki, of the Cook Islands and calls for a radical shift in the way we view whales.

“The sound of our ancestor’s song has grown weaker, and her habitat is under threat, which is why we must act now,” Kiingi Tuheitia said in his speech at the event.

“He Whakaputanga Moana (declaration for the ocean) is a Hinemoana Halo – a cloak of protection for our taonga, our ancestor – the whales.”

He Whakaputanga Moana stands as a testament to indigenous kinship, acknowledging the whales’ inherent mana (spiritual essence) and mauri (life force). The declaration elevates them beyond mere resources, recognizing them as legal persons with inherent rights. These rights encompass freedom of movement, the ability to develop natural behaviours, express their unique cultures, thrive in healthy environments, and witness the restoration of their populations.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye,” said the Kaumaiti Nui of the Cook Islands. “Whales play a vital role in the health of our entire ocean ecosystem. Their decline disrupts the delicate balance that sustains all life in Te Moana nui a Kiwa. We must act with urgency to protect these magnificent creatures before it’s too late.”

He Whakaputanga Moana goes beyond words, outlining a path forward. Establishing marine protected areas and implementing dynamic rāhui (customary restrictions guided by ancestral wisdom) are crucial steps. The declaration also advocates for weaving together mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) with science for a more holistic approach to whale protection.

This journey cannot be undertaken alone. The declaration extends a hand of collaboration to all nations through Polynesia, and anyone who shares a love for Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa, the vast Pacific Ocean. Empowering coastal communities, the guardians of these shores, and sharing knowledge and resources are central to this endeavor. To fuel this vital cause, the creation of a Hinemoana Halo Ocean Protection Fund is proposed.

“Ultimately, He Whakaputanga Moana is a declaration for future generations. Our mokopuna (descendants) deserve to inherit an ocean teeming with life, where the songs of whales continue to resonate across the vast expanse,” said the King.

“Let this declaration be a turning point. Let us ensure the whales, our kin, our pouwhenua (guiding posts), continue their migrations for generations to come. Kia ora, kia kaha! (Be well, be strong!)”


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