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UM News
October 15, 2013

MISSOULA – The Montana Museum of Art & Culture at the University of Montana will present “The Plastic Whale Project” from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17. The public art piece will be viewable on the stage of the George and Jane Dennison Theatre for one afternoon only.

“We don’t often have a chance to see a whale in any form in Montana, and this is a one-of-a-kind imaginative work we think Missoulians will appreciate very much,” said MMAC Director Barbara Koostra. “It has everything to do with treasuring and being good stewards of the natural world around us, and in Montana that’s one of our driving forces.”

National television programming will cover the event and will feature the artwork and the MMAC on a future program. 

The artwork is a 32-foot-long gray whale made of reclaimed plastic bags and other plastic trash. It was created by 900 youth and adults in Thurston County, Washington, as part of an education and outreach project about plastic bags. The primary goal of the project is to have a creative way to engage the public in learning about plastics in our environment, to educate them about other options and to reduce the use of plastic bags.

The skin of the whale is made out of 9,000 plastic bags that were braided together by students at 15 different elementary schools. Middle school 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 – now known 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 at Tumwater High School 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 plastic foam. The design and outreach for the project was completed in fall 2012. The plastics presentations and whale building workshops took place between January and April 2013. The whale has appeared in parades and celebrations in Washington.

In April 2010, a gray whale washed up on shore in West Seattle. Scientists found about 30 plastic bags and other plastic trash in its stomach. This event inspired the creation of the whale that is visiting UM this week.

For more information call the MMAC at 406-243-2019 or visit the museum’s website at


Note to media: Digital images of the whale are available. To request copies, call Shawn Whitworth at 406-243-2019 or email



Western Montana


Contact: Barbara Koostra, director, Montana Museum of Art & Culture, 406-243-2019,