This is not a real whale, only a replica of one set in the context of a site-specific art installation.
The staged whale beachings are the work of a Belgian collective of scientists called Captain Boomer, apparently named after the captain of the whaling ship in Moby Dick. The installation is taking place as a kind of sperm whale road show at various riverbanks in Europe. The whale is surreptitiously deployed (beached) during the night and then suddenly appears in the morning to the surprise of the local community.
According to their website, the interaction with the installation is an inflection point for a community to contemplate the boundary of art and reality and to experience the whale beachings first-hand:
“People feel their bond with nature is disturbed. The game (play) between fiction and reality reinforces this feeling of disturbance.”
The beached whale may also serve as a didactic metaphor for ecological changes affecting marine life and its impact on ecosystems in general, with an inference that these disruptions might be human-caused.
This is a truly “concerned” artwork, not a specimen of a shark preserved in a tank a la Damian Hirst. The shark and the whale are similar in that they are educational and consciousness-raising. But there can be a fine line between a work of art being righteous in its intention, and a work by an artist like Hirst that is usually suspect in its intent: The Collective wants to evoke an uneasiness in the viewer by mixing fiction and reality to create some type of visceral reaction, and perhaps raise awareness of the implications; while Hirst’s shark hints at raising awareness within the gallery confines. The whale installation cuts to the chase without the need an art celebrity at the controls, removing the suspicion that there are any ulterior intentions or vague abstractions.
Presumably this kind of diorama could be done with other creatures, prehistoric animals, Neanderthals, and so on, placed outside a typical museum context and experienced in completely new ways. One doesn’t expect to see a beached whale on a river (or desert for that matter) and that’s what makes it so surprising and compelling.