The most famous whale since Free Willy — for Juneau residents at least — is making its way from Bellingham, Washington, to Alaska’s capital city this weekend, and it’s taking a ferry.
Juneau’s life-sized, six-ton bronze whale sculpture is scheduled to arrive at the ferry terminal at 5:45 a.m. Monday morning, where it will be picked up and transported to its new home next to the Douglas Bridge.
It won’t be ready for viewing just yet, according to Bruce Botelho, president of the Whale Committee.
“Monday is a business day,” he said. “The hubbub will take place when it is actually erected.”
That’s not likely to happen for a couple more weeks. Because the whale is so large and cumbersome, it’s making the long trip from the foundry in Enterprise, Oregon, where it was cast, in three pieces: the body and two fins.
According to Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow, the whale sculpture isn’t the most bizarre thing the ferry system has ever transported. But it’s certainly near the top of the list.
“We’ve carried carnival equipment. We’ve carried planes with the wings off. I’ve even heard that we carried an elephant to Kodiak from Homer,” Woodrow said. “Now we’ll be able to say that we carried a life-sized whale statue, too.”
Welders from the foundry will be traveling to Juneau on Aug. 17 to attach the fins of the dismembered whale before it is fastened to its foundation in Bridge Park. Botelho said there will be a formal unveiling once the whale is upright and ready, and there will be a formal dedication at about this time next year when the park surrounding the whale is complete. For now, it’s just a gravel lot.
Monday will be mark an important milestone in the project’s history. It took about 10 years and nearly $3 million to get the whale sculpture to Juneau. And with almost all projects of this size, there have been some complications.
The whale was supposed to be erected shortly before the Fourth of July, but delays at the foundry — which has never worked on such a whale of a project — pushed that date back more than a month.
“There have been a series of challenges, and we’ve tried to overcome them,” Botelho said. “Hopefully, Monday we will be very close to the end of the project.”
And while Botelho’s work will indeed be coming to an end, the city’s work will continue.
Once the whale is in place, the city will take over the project. It will build the infinity pool, on which the whale will sit, and connect the sculpture to the waterworks system. By the time the project is complete next year, the giant breaching whale will be a functioning fountain, shooting water out of its fins.
The city will also have to finish landscaping the park.
“We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of other stuff to build over there,” said City Manager Rorie Watt.
The whale has been the butt of many jokes over the years, and even some arguments at City Hall and beyond. The Cruise Lines International Association’s Alaska affiliate filed suit against Juneau and several key city officials in April, alleging that the city had misused cruise ship head tax money. Though the whale sculpture wasn’t funded using head taxes, the $10 million sea walk leading from the cruise ship docks to the sculpture was. For many people, the whale became a symbol of frivolous spending.
Controversy aside, Watt said he’s happy to have been involved with the project. By the time the sculpture is in place, he thinks that most people will look back on the project, laugh and smile.
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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