The San Juan Historical Society and Museum presents a history column the first Wednesday of each month on The San Juan Island Update (www.sanjuanupdate.com). It is a volunteer project of Museum members Shaun Hubbard and Robin Jacobson.
Celebrating the 40 Year History of The Whale Museum
This month’s history column from The San Juan Historical Society and Museum
The big picture for a place’s history is more than its people, events, and institutions. The big picture includes the history of such things as its geology, weather, and wildlife — its natural history. The Whale Museum has been in the forefront of conservation, research, and education about the Salish Sea long before we all called it the Salish Sea. This year, The Whale Museum will celebrate its 40th year as a museum in that role.
This local iconic nonprofit was originally founded in 1976 as the Moclips Cetalogical Society by Ken Balcomb, Camille Goebel, and Rick Chandler. Later operating as The Whale Museum in the old Odd Fellows Hall, it first opened its doors to the public on July 8, 1979, with Mark Anderson as its first executive director. It was the first museum in the country devoted to a species living in the wild.
Virtually all carpentry work was done by volunteers, recruited by Ken Balcomb and others. Over 100 volunteers (some of whom reside on the island today) worked for seven months in 1978 on the creation of exhibits and to refurbish the second floor of the 1892 building. Owner Lee Bave charged $75 a month for rent. The first floor was retained for Mrs. Bave’s Island Gallery and her theatrical production, “San Juan Saga.” Quite a few islanders will remember being involved in those two, or at least attending shows and exhibits.
In 1989 The Whale Museum purchased the building from Mrs. Bave and in 1992 the name of the organization was legally changed to The Whale Museum. The 1980s and 1990s were especially active decades with the establishment of programs still going on today:
1981 Marine Mammal Stranding Network
1984 Orca Adoption Program
1992 Pod Nods
1993 Soundwatch Boater Education Program
1994 Marine Naturalist Training Course
Today, The Whale Museum continues to welcome visitors, local and international, with its mission to promote stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. Special 40th Birthday events are planned for later this year. Watch for announcements in local media and on The Whale Museum website (www.
L-8 “Moclips” exhibit in 1981 and today. An orca whale last seen alive on July 23, 1977. Photos courtesy of The Whale Museum.