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Sacred Ocean: The Great Whaling Debate

Sacred Ocean is an innovative anti-whaling campaign created by Noel and Belinda Ashton in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Two Oceans Aquarium.

At the core of the campaign is whale specialist, Noel Ashton’s iconic 3.5m sculpture of a humpback mother and calf set within five vertical whale bones, which was created as a symbolic expression of his deep dismay at the ongoing cruelty of modern-day whaling.

Positioned in the foyer of the Two Oceans Aquarium, Sacred Ocean invites you to pause a while and consider the plight of the world’s great whales as they continue to face the brutal onslaught of explosive-headed harpoon whaling.

Sacred Ocean was launched in November 2008 by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In his opening address, Archbishop Tutu spoke movingly about our continued impact on wildlife and the natural environment, saying “Are we surprised that we can gun down innocent people in hotels, and bomb innocent children, when we can behave so barbarically towards God’s creatures?”

The symbolism of the sculpture reflects on mankind’s long relationship with whales, and, with the accompanying Great Whaling Debate, encourages visitors to the Aquarium to vote either for or against whaling.

The Great Whaling Debate is a world-first, as never before has an anti-whaling campaign gathered opinions from those that oppose and support whaling, thereby giving a powerful, balanced voice to this global debate.

The sculpture aims to raise awareness around whales, their majesty, the threats to their survival, and places special emphasis on bringing to light the brutality and increasing threat of modern whaling.  The central message of the campaign is that whales should live wild and free in the oceans and that it is human greed and political profiteering that is impacting on the integrity of their underwater lives.

“I created Sacred Ocean as a silent symbol of my strongest wish that we celebrate our shared existence on this beautiful blue planet, and that the horrendous killing of whales must stop. Join me and let this iconic sculpture represent your voice as well, and vote in the Great Whaling Debate; it might take you a minute but that minute could save the life of a magnificent whale,” says Noel.  

Noel shares his inspiration for the different elements of the sculpture

The whale bones symbolise the past and the millions of whales lost through whaling. The structure of these bones is such that they create an inner chamber that surrounds and protects the mother and calf, which can be expanded into a deeper protective metaphor. The configuration of the bones also resembles the curves and symmetry of the great gothic cathedrals, thereby incorporating a spiritual dimension in the sculpture, but not associating it directly with religion.

The adult humpback whale represents the present and an opportunity to celebrate whales.

The calf offers hope for the future, as whale populations slowly recover from the huge impacts of the whaling era.

Around the base of the sculpture, relief panels focus on seven great whales and the Yangtze River Dolphin, which was recently declared extinct.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at the Sacred Ocean launch Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at the Sacred Ocean launch