SYDNEY - A gigantic whale-like balloon with pendulous udder-like appendages, designed to mark the centenary of Australia’s capital Canberra, has divided opinion, with some branding it an ugly waste of money and others saying it is an inspiration.

Skywhale, believed to be the first hot-air balloon commissioned to celebrate a city’s 100th birthday, has the flowing form of a giant pink-and-black-hued fish. But its face could be that of a parrot, or a turtle, and the renowned artist who designed it, Patricia Piccinini, refuses to say just what it is.

Piccinini, whose work has been shown at the Venice Biennale and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and who recently exhibited works in the US, Turkey and London, said Skywhale was a piece about “wonder and nature”.

“It’s meant to inspire a sense of wonder in ‘what is it?’” she told the ABC of the towering sculpture which used more than 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) of fabric and took 16 people some seven months to make.

At 34 metres long and 23 metres high, the Skywhale is at least twice as big as a standard hot-air balloon and weighs half a tonne.

The balloon, which was made in Bristol in the United Kingdom and cost Aus$172,000 (US$173,000) has sparked outpourings on social media, with some describing it as a waste of money while others enjoyed the sense of fun.

On the Daily Telegraph website, Tim Blair said it was the perfect symbol for the city which is home to the national parliament - “a bloated, gaseous, multi-breasted monster feeding those who dwell in its poisonous shadow while leeching off the rest of us”.

“I’ve seen more attractive road kill than the grotesque #skywhale,” was once response on Twitter.