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Squalicum Harbor used to have a life-size orca mannequin. Here's what happened to it.

John London, 16, sands down a patch of fiber glass on an orca that Homeport Learning Center repaired in 2011. The life-size orca mannequin used to stand outside Nicki's Restaurant in Squalicum Harbor and now has a new home on Orcas Island outside the office of Outer Island Excursions and Orcas W.I.L.D.
John London, 16, sands down a patch of fiber glass on an orca that Homeport Learning Center repaired in 2011. The life-size orca mannequin used to stand outside Nicki's Restaurant in Squalicum Harbor and now has a new home on Orcas Island outside the office of Outer Island Excursions and Orcas W.I.L.D. Staff

Many Bellingham residents over the past two decades probably had their picture taken with it.

Heck, some even may have watched their kids climb on it — don't worry, we're not telling.

Beau Brandow said he's got a picture of himself standing next to the fiberglass orca mannequin that once "swam" at Squalicum Harbor next to Nicki's Bella Marina restaurant. Now he's the proud owner of it ... as well as an interesting whale-sized tale about how he got the 30-foot long, 2,000-plus-pound, life-size replica of a male killer whale to its new home on Orcas Island.

"We randomly stumbled upon this listing for it on Craigslist one day," said Brandow, owner of Outer Island Excursions, which offers whale watching tours and charters. "The next day we jumped at it."

The orca, according to a story published by The Islands' Sounder, is now located at 414 North Beach Road in Eastsound — outside the office for Outer Island Excursions and Orcas W.I.L.D., Orcas Island's version of the Orca Museum on San Juan Island and also owned by Brandow.

"The individual who sold the orca to us wanted to see it used for an educational purpose," Brandow said. "They wanted to make sure it found a good home."

It's previous owner, lifelong Bellingham resident Terry Buzzard, certainly had a special place in his heart for the old orca lookalike.

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The life-size orca mannequin that used to stand outside Nicki's Bella Marina restaurant at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, Wash., now has a new home on Orcas Island outside the office of Outer Island Excursions and Orcas W.I.L.D. Beau Brandlow Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

He was involved in the building of the mannequin, Brandow said, as the orca, which actually floats, was originally built to look exactly like a living orca to scare off sea lions that feed off salmon trying to climb salmon ladders at dams along the Columbia River. It cost approximately $100,000 to build according to the Sounder article.

"Unfortunately, it didn't work," Brandow said. "It was a unique approach — something like a scarecrow."

Seeing as how it couldn't couldn't scare off sea lions, Buzzard thought it might instead attract people.

The orca moved to dry land in Squalicum Harbor in 1998 or 1999, according to Port of Bellingham public affairs administrator Michael Hogan, and found a new home outside the offices of Buzzard's Island Mariner — a ferry and freight company that grew to include whale-watching trips in the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands.

When Buzzard died in December of 2015, Island Mariner stopped operating charters and his estate moved the whale off Port property in the spring of 2017.

It sat in storage near Bellingham for about a year until Brandow discovered the Craigslist post.

But finding and purchasing the orca and actually getting it to Orcas Island were two totally different things, Brandow said.

"This is not something you just pick up and move," he said. "It's pretty heavy. We needed to get a forklift to pick it up from where it was being stored and put it on a boat trailer to haul it and then get a fork lift over here to unload it."

And in between?

"It was quite a sight to see this life-size orca riding around on a trailer and taking it on to the ferry," Brandow said. "I have pictures."

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Beau Brandow and his team needed a forklift to lift a mannequin Orca, which used to sit at Squalicum Harbor, onto a boat trailer to move it to its new home on Orcas Island. Beau Brandow Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

And now people who visit Orcas Island will get to take their own pictures with it.

"The orca is the official marine mammal of the state of Washington and an iconic symbol of the Puget Sound," Hogan said. "The Port is thrilled the orca mannequin has found a new home on Orcas Island where it can continue to promote tourism, raise awareness about orcas and encourage the protection of natural marine habitat."

Brandow said plans are to refurbish the orca and add a shiny new coat of fiberglass and fresh paint. He said he also plans to plant flowers around it and add the ability to make it spout water when kids walk by and push a button.

There's even a contest to name the orca — "Randy" has the early lead, Brandow said.

"People have been drawn to the whale, and we're hoping they'll be drawn in through the front doors and learn about killer whales and the environment," Brandow said. "We've already had 10 to 20 people come in that were just walking by and saw it. People are really thrilled to see it."

Those in Bellingham who remember when it was here certainly know the feeling.

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