PORTLAND, Ore. — Sales of Oregon's new gray whale license plate have raised about $300,000 for Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, which uses the funds to study the massive mammals that migrate from Mexico to feed off the U.S. West coast each summer.
The license plate shows the image of a gray whale mother and her calf. It went on sale Feb. 1, 2019.
As of December 2019, nearly 10,000 Oregonians had purchased the plates, which cost $40 to order or renew. About $35 of each sale goes to the Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.
Marine ecologist Leigh Torres, an assistant professor with the Marine Mammal Institute, was the first beneficiary of the plate funds, according to a statement from Oregon State University.
Torres was awarded funds to continue research focused on Oregon’s “summer resident” gray whales during 2019. She will continue that work in 2020 off the coast of Port Orford, Oregon.
Most gray whales migrate from breeding grounds in Mexico to feeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska, where they spend the summer. A smaller group spends the summer months feeding in coastal waters of Oregon, as well as northern California, Washington and southern Canada.
Torres and her team collect photographs and video from small boats and drones and scoop fecal samples from the water using nets. The images help assess the whales' health, while analysis of the fecal matter will help determine which species of prey they most prefer.
“We want to understand how health varies in these long-lived animals,” Torres said. “The data we collect through these check-ups will ultimately allow us to better protect this population and their habitat to ensure that future generations of Oregonians can enjoy seeing them in our coastal waters."
In addition to gray whale research projects, license plate funds will strengthen a Newport-based whale entanglement response team to aid whales caught in debris such as fishing gear.
The gray whale plate will remain available for purchase as long as 2,000 new plates are issued each year. The institute also will receive funds when existing plates are renewed.