Sandy's Story, Part 5: Two Other Whales

In Part 4 we read how Larry Foster’s visit to Pacific Grove sparked Sandy’s refurbishment by our City Public Works.  Over the summer she was looked especially good for all those selfies and group photos.  The busy tourist season resurfaced questions about other Sandy sculptures such as, “Does that whale have a twin across the bay?” And, one of my favorites, “I heard that whale flew over the San Francisco Bay!”  Listening to those questions rekindled my curiosity

            In Part 5 we look at two other whales on bays that share stories with Sandy.



            Across our Bay is another California gray whale sculpture that is often confused with our celebrity cetacean.  This beautiful exhibit rests under cypress trees in Tyrrell Park at the entrance of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History (SCMNH) and near Seabright Beach.

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The whale’s design was Larry Foster’s and it was fabricated by Al Hipkins. This grande sculpture was dedicated nearly the same time as Sandy in October 1982. As their sign reads, “She was commissioned by the Museum Association as an educational tool, and to stimulate interest in conservation issues. She is constructed of a wood frame covered with strips of lathe and a layer of cement.” The whale was constructed with over $7000 raised through a combination of City Museum Association and Arts Council funds, as well as community donations and proceeds from a campaign of whale inspired local talks, special exhibits, puppets shows, walk-a-thons and more. Local companies such as Big Creek Lumber and Lone Star Cement donated materials for the original construction. In 1999 the sculpture was repaired by local stone and masonry craftsman Kemper York. A team at Tom Ralston Concrete patched some areas and restored natural mottling color by using rags, brushes, rags and sponges. Additional concrete fill was added to lengthen the sculpture’s life span.

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SCMNH staff say the whale sculpture is an iconic piece of their history and many local Santa Cruzans affectionately refer to their museum as the Whale Museum. She is popular with children and listed as #4 in Top 10 things to do with kids in Santa Cruz. Visit this whale and our neighboring natural history museum across the bay.


            Above the San Francisco Bay on a plaza at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) is a sculpture of an adolescent fin whale—the second largest whale in the world.  This whale is named Pheena.  How does a whale get to the Berkeley Hills?  Read on.

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The United States was hosting the World Wildlife Fund’s Fourth International Congress in 1976. The theme was “The Fragile Earth: Toward Strategies for Survival.” As a marine conservation program was being launched, San Francisco was the chosen location rather than their headquarters in Washington D.C. Christopher Dann was Managing Director of the US-World Wildlife Fund at the time. He was collaborating with public and private foundations for funding. Dann had heard of Larry and “General Whale” within the network of whale conservation and environmental education organizations. He had also heard about a life-size gray whale sculpture that made appearances at public schools and community events. With the goal of drawing public attention to the perils facing the marine environment and ecology, he was interested in getting this whale (aka Sandy) to Union Square for the duration of the gathering. The two men met to discuss logistics and realized that getting a concrete whale downtown for the meeting posed a big challenge. Larry suggested sculpting a fiberglass whale. Fundraising for the conference was going well, so a commission was secured. Jack Sims and others from “General Whale” worked away and Pheena was completed later that fall. A grande debut was planned. Network news panned the Golden Gate as a gleaming 50-foot whale air lifted from her construction site at Fort Mason Pier 3. Helicopter Pilot Bill Hackler generously donated his ”Rocky Mountain Helicopters” service.

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After circling the bay, Pheena landed on Marina Green to greet fans.  National Geographic had their own helicopter and photo journalist.  What an awesome view to look up and see a whale in the sky!

            “Pheena, the flying finback whale, swims in the breeze, floats over trees, chases seagulls, capers with kites. When she comes down, no child approaches at a walk.”

            (Herron, Matt “Leviathan Model Brings Us The Whale We Could Never See” Smithsonian, January 1978, Vol. 8, No. 10, pp. 52-59)

Photo Credit: Matt Heron

Photo Credit: Matt Heron

Photo Credit: Matt Heron   “At Fort Mason National Recreation Area, Foster measures the whale in what would seem to be appropriate units: Pheena is just 12 children long.”

Photo Credit: Matt Heron

“At Fort Mason National Recreation Area, Foster measures the whale in what would seem to be appropriate units: Pheena is just 12 children long.”

Like her predecessor Sandy, Pheena spent a decade traveling nationwide for educational outreach and save the whale campaigns to art galleries, museums and science centers. Locally these San Francisco activist-celebs could be seen at Crab Cove in Alameda, Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, San Francisco Zoo and California Academy of Sciences. Enjoy a look back at the eighties and check out Image 12.

During the mid-1980s Pheena was placed on loan at LHS. In her beauty and awe, she inspired and spread her message of whale conservation. After a few years LHS became her permanent home. Popularity and natural weathering called for extra attention.

Photo credit: Mary Foster  Larry works on-site with Pheena’s restoration in the 1990s.

Photo credit: Mary Foster

Larry works on-site with Pheena’s restoration in the 1990s.

More recently some repairs were needed.  Word was sent out to fans and money was raised.  Pheena took a winding truck-ride through the Berkeley Hills to Richmond’s Bay Marine Boatworks for a structural and cosmetic makeover.  To celebrate the restoration there was a rededication on October 6, 2017 at Bay Day at the Hall. Larry was honored and a dedication plaque was installed on the plaza.

            You can read more about Larry, Bay Day and Pheena here.

Visit Pheena at the Lawrence Hall of Science where she overlooks the San Francisco Bay.


            A magnitude of whale protection efforts, ecological awareness and environmental conservation was engaged in the mid-seventies. While these three whales were serving as ambassadors, across the Monterey Bay near the SCMNH three entrepreneurs were anticipating society’s future needs and developing New Earth Expositions.  Their motto was ”living lightly on the Earth.”  People went to learn about feeling good, saving water, saving electricity, saving the world, and yes—saving whales.  Energy, ecology and personal growth; the expos were part education and part festival.  Larry with “General Whale” participated in the San Francisco, Santa Cruz and San Diego expos.

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These whale sculptures bridge beyond bays to an artist’s dream at a critical time in a fragile environment.  Art with science inspires and influences. Sandy is part of our Museum’s art collection inventory.  Did you know that she is also in the Inventory of American  Sculpture (IAS) with the Smithsonian American Art Museum?   The “Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!)” program was born in 1989 out of concern for publicly accessible outdoor sculptures and monuments.  It was a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American Art and the Heritage Preservation: The National Institute of Conservation.  Over 7000 citizen volunteers were recruited in the early 1990s and trained to complete a comprehensive survey as information was collected and photographed.  These watchdogs recognized that landmarks connect the past and preserve the future for generations, whether it’s history, science or the arts.  Fear that some of these pieces might be endangered seems playfully noted in the name—SOS!.  Over 30,000 pieces, from minute to whale-sized and beyond became part of this public art collection.   Paul Finnegan, who was with the Museum at the time, made sure that Sandy’s information was included.  You can access this online inventory via SIRIS (the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System) catalog.   

Go ahead and search!

Also check our Museum’s online collections database.

            So there we have it.  Three Foster whale sculptures near their respective bays as each provides education and enjoyment for whale enthusiasts past, present and into the future. 

Currently near the Mendocino Coast a book on Larry’s story is in creation.  This artist, educator, illustrator and humorist refers to it as “The 50 Year Report.”



            It has been a joy to share Sandy’s Story with the community that embraced her and rallied together to give her a permanent home.

“Larry Foster is an artist who started General Whale: a graphics effort offered as ‘proof against the harpoon.’ He is a sculptor who (in his own words) ‘feels the need to contribute more to society than art alone.’ “
— From: McIntyre, Joan. (1974). Mind in the Waters, Charles Scribner’s Sons: p. 97.

             A big THANK YOU to Larry and Mary Foster for their generous time, stories, jokes and the many resources contributed.     Also thanks to: Kathleen Aston, Collections Specialist and Felicia Van Stolk,  Education Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History;  Janet Herrington, Assistant Director of Development, The Lawrence Hall of Science, UC Berkeley; and to Christopher Dann and Matt Heron.

 ~ Elayne Azevedo, Pacific Grove, August 2019

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