A 15-metre whale has appeared to wash up overnight on Glenelg in Adelaide’s south-western suburbs in a surreal scene on Saturday morning.

A life-sized replica of a sperm whale, it is all the work of Belgium-based group The Captain Boomer Collective as part of the Adelaide Festival to deliver a powerful statement about the environment and climate change

Hundreds of curious onlookers have descended onto the Adelaide metropolitan beach for a glimpse of the art installation.

Onlookers stop to look at the art installation of the beached whale at Glenelg.(Supplied: Andrew Beveridge)

The art collective has set up a gazebo on the shore as well as actors pretending to be scientists from a made-up environmental group, the International Whale Association.

As part of the theatre piece, the actors are speaking with spectators about different versions of how the hyper-real whale was beached, to spark conversations about climate change — blurring the lines between fiction and reality.

Bart Van Peel, artistic director of  The Captain Boomer Collective, said seeing a beached whale provoked “a journey of emotions” for people.

“The beaching of a whale is a rare event that throughout the centuries has always moved the community,” Mr Van Peel said.

“All of a sudden they realised, ‘oh this may not be true’, so are they relieved, are they angry, do they see the artistic prank in it?”

“People among themselves start to talk about why is it there and also about the issues we want to raise. We know the biggest issue of our time is the ecological crisis of course.”

Bart Van Peel is part of The Captain Boomer Collective, which created the whale installation.(ABC News: Amelia Walters)

Mr Van Peel said people’s reactions ranged from sceptical to being “total believers”, and some had changed their minds after hearing a scientist in a uniform speak.

The artist said the art piece was a great way to get to know about the local community and locals’ sense of humour.

“We see that people are quite well-informed about whales here and they care a lot,” Mr Van Peel said.

“They start to play along in our theatre, fool other people in the audience and that’s just a wonder to see.”

This is the first time the artwork has appeared in Australia.(Supplied: Andrew Beveridge)

Adelaide Festival artistic director Ruth Mackenzie said this was the first time the theatre piece had made it to Australia, following appearances in other cities overseas including London, Madrid and Paris.

“It’s an exclusive that is open to everyone who wants to come down to Glenelg and see how art can imitate life, can make you think, can surprise you … and can perhaps help all of us to understand what’s happening to our climate and our oceans and our whales,” she said.

“It’s also an inspiring, beautiful, incredible event which you’ll never forget.”

Ms Mackenzie said the audience’s suspicions and reactions were all part of “good theatre”.

“I love the journey where you go, ‘is it real? If it’s real, I’m really upset’, and then you discover that it’s art,” she said.

“But some people get even more upset because they feel that the artist has led them down the wrong path.”

Actors pretending to be scientists are part of the theatre piece.(Supplied: Andrew Beveridge)

Real or not?

Some people have taken to social media to question whether the animal is real.

Even some of those who arrived at the beach were doubtful. 

Beachgoer Maria told the ABC she was initially shocked and sad, but became relieved when she learned that the whale wasn’t real.

“I honestly thought three hot days, it’s going to be smelly, it’s going to be awful, people don’t want to be coming here for a swim,” she said.

The whale replica being placed on the sand by a crane overnight. (Supplied: Luke Howe)

Another local resident said they originally thought it was a hoax, but then spoke to one of the “whale experts” and “they confirmed it was indeed a real whale”.

A visitor from Victoria said he had been attracted by the big crowd and was surprised to see the large animal.

“Is it real? Half the people are saying it’s not real,” he said.

An Adelaide man captured the installation being lifted onto the sands with a large crane at about 3am on Saturday. 

The hyper-realistic whale was built in Western Australia.

The free event will be at Glenelg until Monday.

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