People in Paris were surprised earlier this week, after a "beached whale" showed up on the banks of the river Seine. Passersby were greeted by what appeared to be a dead sperm whale, cordoned off from the public. There were even "forensic scientists" gathered around the "whale" to study it.
It was a pretty strange sight.
So what's really going on? Did a sperm whale make it all the way down the Seine and get stranded somehow?
Well, whilst the whale is extremely realistic-looking and quite convincing...
... it is, in fact, an art installation. The 17-meter (55-foot) "whale" was constructed overnight by Captain Boomer Collective. The team of Belgian artists placed the whale there to raise awareness about humans destroying the environment.
The team even went as far as to simulate the smells of a dead whale.
"We place the statue on the beach during the night and prepare bleeding and smell," they wrote on their website. "In the morning the carcass is fenced, to keep people at a distance. We create of circle of about seven meters around the statue. Within this perimeter, the beaching is a true fact. The actors within the fence never drop their cover. They are scientific and official figures of a fictitious organization, the North Sea Whale Association."
The project appears to be convincing, with the Mirror reporting that several people believed the whale to be real.
"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 [...] I think it might be our fault," one Paris resident apparently told the paper.
The project aims to raise awareness of our impact on the environment in general, as well as our direct impact on whales in particular. Sperm whales are classified as a vulnerable species, after their numbers declined due to commercial whaling.
Whilst a whale making its way up the Seine is extremely unlikely, sperm whales are regularly found beached in the North Sea.
The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme project manager Rob Deaville told IFLScience that during a normal year there would be around two to five sperm whale strandings in the UK alone, with more taking place around the North Sea. Last year, there was a mass-stranding event, where dozens of sperm whales washed up in the UK in one month.