The concept for New Zealand's first National Whale Centre (NWC) has been launched in Picton today.
The country's first virtual 'museum' focused purely on marine mammals was 'unveiled' by the NWC Development Trust's Chair, Nick Gerritsen, its project director Luit Bieringa, together with the Centre's Youth Patron, ten-year-old Isaac Scott.
Initially, the NWC will be an interactive 'museum without walls' and include a website and blog. The website went live today. However, there are plans to house first exhibits in specially-designed shipping containers on land provided by the Marlborough District Council on a Picton foreshore site.
The project has gained wide support and is backed by New Zealand and international patrons including Dame Anne Salmond and former All Black captain Anton Oliver.
Oliver says the NWC will perform a crucial role in educating communities about New Zealand's whaling past and creating awareness of threatened species that lurk, often unseen and out of mind, underwater. "It's so much harder to create awareness for that which we cannot see. I hope the NWC will make us much more aware of how much we've lost and how much we stand to lose if we don't join arms and become custodians of our special marine environments: protecting that which we currently take for granted.
"I grew up fishing, diving and swimming in the Marlborough sounds - it was my aquatic back yard and I know the area well. Understanding our past enables us to create baselines - both in terms of what we have left in our oceans versus what we used to have and also how our attitude to the natural world has changed over time."
NWC aims to raise awareness of New Zealand's whaling past in Marlborough and the Marlborough Sounds as well as current marine life conservation efforts through information, research and exhibition programmes. Interested parties can support NWC and its programmes by becoming a supporting donor at www.aworldwithwhales.com
The NWC will also explore local, national and international stories and share those stories to contribute to future sustainable marine environments.
"This is a world-first concept combining the history and future of the marine environment with the whale and other cetaceans as the focus," explains NWC project director Luit Bieringa, a Wellington-based art historian and museum consultant, ex-director of the National Art Gallery. NWC has chosen to make Picton its base given its position in the history of pre-European and post contact period with an extensive whaling industry active until 1964.
A total of 53 of the world's 87 whale species pass through New Zealand waters including some of the world's rarest dolphins.
Seed funding for the project's concept development phase has been provided by the Marlborough District Council. Eventually the Centre aims to be economically independent and self-sufficient through visitors, memberships, donations, sponsorships and merchandising activities.
Once developed, the NWC will provide jobs and an economic benefit to Marlborough as it becomes a tourist attraction for international and New Zealand visitors.
Scott, the Youth Patron, has been collecting one million signatures to protest against anti-whaling and plans to petition the Government about Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.
He has also started a Facebook page to support the petition. Sea Shepherd boss Paul Watson was one of first the members to his page.
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