NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregonians may now purchase a voucher for a new license plate featuring a gray whale and her calf, with proceeds going to support the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute.

The voucher can be purchased for $40 through the institute at Once 3,000 vouchers have been sold, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles will begin manufacturing the plates, which will take approximately 12 weeks. The Marine Mammal Institute will notify purchasers when their vouchers may be redeemed for license plates at DMV offices.

The OSU Marine Mammal Institute will receive $35 for each pair of license plates sold. The money will directly support whale research, graduate student education and public outreach, according to Bruce Mate, who directs the institute.

“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,” Mate said. “We hope a lot of Oregonians will embrace the phrase ‘put a whale on your tail’ and purchase license plates for their vehicles.”

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

Mate is an internationally recognized expert in marine mammal research who pioneered some of the earliest research into tracking tagged whales by satellite. The Marine Mammal Institute was established in 2006 at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, as an expansion of a program founded by Mate in the 1970s at OSU. Program highlights include:

  • 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.”

The new Oregon license 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 that emulates the sea and sky. In the upper left corner is a lighthouse, and across the bottom it reads “Coastal Playground.”

For more information on the Marine Mammal Institute, go to:

Story By: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, [email protected] and Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, [email protected]


Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, [email protected]


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