Should whales have the status of legal persons?

Indigenous leaders of New Zealand, Tahiti and the Cook Islands signed a historic treaty that recognizes whales as legal persons in a move conservationists believe will apply pressure to national governments to offer greater protections for the large mammals.

“It’s fitting that the traditional guardians are initiating this,” said Mere Takoko, a Māori conservationist who leads Hinemoana Halo Ocean Initiative, the group that spearheaded the treaty. “For us, by restoring those world populations we also restore our communities.”

Conservationists have good reason to believe they will succeed: In 2017, New Zealand passed a groundbreaking law that granted personhood status to the Whanganui River because of its importance to Māori, New Zealand’s Indigenous people.


Legislation would be built around several pillars: monitoring, penalties for killing whales and even whale insurance. A $100 million fund would back the initiative.

“When you recognize a whale as a legal person — that doesn’t mean they’re human — they’re a legal person, meaning you can endow them with certain rights,” said Ralph Chami, the project’s head economist. “And with that comes a responsibility that if you hurt or bring harm to a whale, then there are remedies.”

Here is more from Remy Tumin at the NYT, interesting throughout.



Add Comment