The Story

Year completed: 2012

Dimensions: 10’x32’x8’

Medium: 10,000 upcycled plastic bags, cups, forks, and bottles from school cafeterias, upcycled poly-pipe, bamboo.

Commissioning Agency: Thurston County Public Works

Collaborators: Thurston County Solid Waste, Procession of the Species Celebration, Cascadia Research Collective, LOTT Clean Water Alliance, YMCA After Care, 900 students at 19 Thurston County Schools.


This life-sized gray whale was created by over 900 people from elementary age to seniors and won the Societal Impact Award from the WA State Recycling Association.  It was featured on a television program viewed by 1.5 million people and regaled as a highlight during the Capital’s beloved Procession of the Species Parade.

This project combined sculpture, performance, marine biology, and social action to inspire us to make positive choices around plastics. The map on the side of the whale shows how trash becomes part of the Pacific gyre, now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The other side shows the skeleton of the whale, designed and made by high school students with trash from their cafeteria.

The piece debuted during the period when the Thurston County plastic bag ban was up for consideration and played a significant role in a positive change in policy through community awareness.

Participants said they felt personally responsible for the ban on bags. When I heard students feel that they had the power to create a change in our government, I knew the project had an impact that went much deeper than any that can be seen on the surface.





The following video was created by the by Thurston County Public Works department in Olympia, Washington. Narrated by artist Carrie Ziegler, it highlights the The Plastic Whale project, a 32-foot long gray whale made of plastic bags and other plastic trash. This video also shows the creation of The Plastic Whale during the spring of 2013 by over 900 youth and adults in Thurston County, Washington as part of an education and outreach project about plastic bags and the effects of trash in the ocean.