Whales and humans have long shared the coastline of Cape Cod. Native Americans harvested whales the washed up on the beaches, almost exclusively for food, long before the arrival of European colonists. While anchored in what would become Provincetown Harbor, passengers of the Mayflower became aware of the presence of whales. It was not long before an exploring party from the ship observed beached whales on the shore of "Grampus Bay" (present-day Wellfleet Harbor) and watched as Native Americans cut strips of meat from the carcasses, in a practice that would become known as "drift whaling."
First noted in the journal of John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, drift whaling later evolved into shore whaling around 1640, in which whalers hunted using small boats launched from shore. By 1681, the reduced whale population was evident, and by the early 1700's shore whaling declined as had drift whaling before it.
A turnaround in Cape Cod's whaling history began on Thanksgiving Day in 1984 when Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, co-founder of the Center for Coastal Studies, along with Center colleagues, freed a humpback whale named Ibis from a life-threatening entanglement in fishing gear within Provincetown Harbor. The Center is internationally recognized for its search,
especially around two prominent yet endangered whale species native to Cape Cod; the North Atlantic right whale migrates past Orleans to feed in Cape Cod Bay each winter, and a sizable population of humpback whales spend the summer throughout Stellwagen Bank and the Gulf of Maine. With only around 500 individual right whales remaining, the successful release of just one entangled whale may be profound for sustaining the species. The Center's response team has helped release more than thirty right whales, and 80 humpback whales, since first helping Ibis in 1984.
This sculpture is the result of a two year Creative Placemaking project directed by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, with major funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and added funding from the groups below. The work aims to foster a greater "sense of place" in the Orleans Village Center Cultural District. Selected through a competitive process with panels of local and state judges, the whale was commissioned by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, approved by the Board of Selectmen, and finally gifted to the Town of Orleans in a ceremony on June 6, 2015.
Created by Orleans metal sculptor Syd Ahlstrom, the whale is fabricated from mild steel and features applied rust control agents with a heavy coat of clear poly. Syd chose the diving humpback whale to engender joy and spontaneity,
and mounted it on a fieldstone native to the region. For an added surprise, look closely to find three additional sea creatures between the whale and stone.