The Plastic Whale is a 32-foot long gray whale made of plastic bags and other plastic trash. It was created during the spring of 2013 by over 900 youth and adults in Thurston County as part of an education and outreach project about plastic bags. The project engages the public in learning about plastics in our environment in a creative way. They learn about options to reduce the use of plastic bags in our county.
The skin of the whale is made out of 9,000 plastic bags that were braided together by students at 15 different elementary schools. Students formed the 6,000 feet of plastic braids into a mat, similar to a rag rug, to make the skin.
The whale’s skin shows a map of the Pacific Ocean and the Great Pacific Gyre — known now as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Ocean currents pull trash from America and Asia into the center of the Pacific Ocean. Mammals, birds, and fish mistake the plastic for food. The map of the gyre is centered over the whale’s stomach, symbolizing the plastic stuck in the stomachs of marine animals.
The skeleton of the gray whale was created by art students and is visible on the whale’s right side. It was made out of disposable plastic forks and cups that are used in many school cafeterias, milk jugs, and Styrofoam.
The whale was in the Procession of the Species Celebration on April 27, 2013. It is on display at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia, WA beginning May 9.
The Gray whale
Gray whales have the longest migration of any whale and some visit the Puget Sound where they can be affected by plastic bags from Thurston County.
In April of 2010, a gray whale washed up on shore in West Seattle. Scientists found approximately 30 plastic bags and other plastic trash and non-plastic trash in its stomach. It is unknown why the whale died specifically. They concluded that although the plastic bags might not have killed the whale, the whale was eating off the bottom of the Puget Sound near Seattle in a developed area. This however is a poor testament to the nearshore waters of a developed area. There are concerns that exposure to less visible pollution such as PCB’s, pesticides, heavy metals could also have contributed to its death. These all have been documented in high levels in the top layers of sediment in developed areas like Seattle.