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Splash out on a whale plate

Published on November 28, 2017 11:51AM

Marine Science experts on the Oregon Coast are encouraging drivers to “put a whale on their tail” by signing up for a new license plate featuring a gray whale and her calf.

Proceeds from sales of the specialty plates will support the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute, based at Newport’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“Since we first announced the program in December 2016, we’ve heard a lot of enthusiastic support for the design of the plates and the concept of supporting whale conservation,” said Marine Mammal Institute Director Bruce Mate.

Mate said the initiative received strong support from public officials and the Oregon Legislature, with leadership from Rep. David Gomberg of District 10 on the central coast, who endorsed the idea during several legislative sessions.

The new plate was designed by well-known wildlife illustrator Pieter Folkens, who originally created the image for a poster. It depicts a whale cow and calf on a two-toned background with a lighthouse in the upper left corner and the slogan “Coastal Playground” across the bottom.

People interested in putting a whale on their tail can buy a voucher for $40 at whaleplate.com. Once 3,000 vouchers have been sold, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles will begin the roughly 12-week process of manufacturing the plates. The Marine Mammal Institute will notify buyers when their vouchers can be redeemed for license plates at DMV offices.

The Marine Mammal Institute will receive $35 for each pair of license plates sold, with the funds going toward whale research, graduate student education and public outreach.

Mate, who has been with the institute since it was founded in 2006, is an internationally recognized expert in marine mammal research who pioneered some of the earliest research into tracking tagged whales by satellite.

The work of Mate and the institute was featured prominently in a 2009 documentary “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which was narrated by Tom Selleck and became the most widely viewed documentary on the National Geographic Channel.

Genetic research by Scott Baker, associate director of the institute, was featured in “The Cove,” which won an Academy Award for documentaries in 2010 for its unveiling of dolphin exploitation in a small Japanese fishing village.

In 2015, researchers from the Marine Mammal Institute and their Russian colleagues documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded — a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a gray whale named Varvara.

Marine Mammal Institute researchers also have worked on sperm whale ecology in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, analyzed whales’ response to shipping traffic and sonar noise, revolutionized new tags for tracking whales and studied whale behavior and ecology from the Arctic Ocean to Antarctica.

In collaboration with Oregon State Parks, the institute trains volunteers for the Whale Watch Spoken Here program, which annually helps up to 40,000 tourists spot migrating gray whales during winter and spring breaks.

“Whales are wonderful creatures and the world is better with them in it,” Mate said. “This license plate program will directly help the Marine Mammal Institute achieve its goals of conservation-oriented research, graduate student education and public outreach.”

For more information on the Marine Mammal Institute, go to https://mmi.oregonstate.edu.

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