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Kids campaign for orcas

Never say kids can’t make a difference.

A second grade class at Crescent Harbor Elementary is very close to making the orca whale the official state marine mammal.

School library assistant Peggy Mihalik came up with the idea when she learned Washington state did not have an official mammal, as many other states do. She considered the orca, a dominant symbol of Northwest life, but felt that it might create an East-West conflict; not too many orcas in Eastern Washington.

So she narrowed it to marine mammal.

“The orca was the best choice,” she said. “It’s known world-wide.”

The orca was also a perfect choice for Bonnie Alanis’ class, as they study sea mammals in their science unit, and a visit to the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor is an annual event. Although, as one student pointed out, orca are not whales, they are large dolphins.

State representatives Hans Dunshee, D-Everett and Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor have taken up the cause, and this week introduced a bill that would officially recognize the orca as the state marine mammal.

Sehlin said he was happy to support the students’ petition, which is a no-cost way to teach a valuable civics lesson.

“It’s commendable when schools can have the opportunity to actively participate (in government),” he said. “I always like to support that.”

The orca bill project, as it has come to be known, also ties in with several educational goals for the students.

The second graders have a unit on government leaders, which Alanis said leads to a discussion about leadership in general. She teaches them that they can follow rules and be good leaders as well.

“I wanted them to know they could change the rules too,” Alanis said.

The students have been gathering names on a petition to send to Olympia to support their bill, and they are learning about what bills are and how the process works. Having their own bill to follow makes it a much livelier lesson.

Alanis has also incorporated lessons on symmetry and graphing into the project. Alanis took an 8 by 14 inch photo of an orca, divided it into equal portions, and assigned the students to enlarge their portion to create a section of a two-and-a-half by five-foot mural. Like orcas in the ecosystem, many parts make up a whole.

Several students worked on the mural Wednesday, and shared what they had learned about orcas.

“I like that they can ‘spy hop’,” Kylen Lamarque said. He had to explain that “spy hopping” meant peeking out of the water.

“I like that they can jump high and swim fast,” Cody Edwards said.

Tabitha Vallee, who pointed out the orcas’ classification as dolphins, was also developing strong ideas about how they should be treated.

“I don’t like that orcas are starting to die because people put chemicals in the water that kills them,” she said.

Rep. Sehlin agreed the orca was a good choice.

“If there’s a mammal that represents the state of Washington, certainly the orca fits in that category,” he said. “They picked a good one.”

The students have collected at least 100 signatures so far, in support of Bill 2884 which reads: “The legislature finds that many people visit Washington state to watch orca whales, the orca whale is a significant symbol for the Native American culture, there are pods of orca whales that migrate annually through Puget Sound, and the orca whale is easily recognizable because of its distinct markings. The legislature intends to promote orca whale awareness and to encourage protection of the natural marine habitat by designating the orca whale as the official mammal of the state of Washington.”

Anyone interested in signing the petition to support the orca bill can contact Peggy Mihalik at Crescent Harbor Elementary, 279-5130, or visit the Web site and print out a 50 signature petition to gather more support. Signed petitions are due Feb. 6, and may be returned to Mihalik or sent directly to Rep. Hans Dunshee, House of Representatives, P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504.

Rep. Sehlin can be contacted in Olympia at 360-786-7884, or by e-mail at sehlin_ba@leg.wa.gov.

Ways of whales

Saturday, Feb. 14, Orca Network presents a workshop on the way of whales from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Coupeville Middle School. Presenters and topics: Transient orcas by Robin Baird; porpoise (possibly including results of necropsies on post-sonar porpoise strandings) and the Orca Recovery Plan, by Brad Hanson of National Marine Fisheries Service; how the orca became the Tulalip Tribe's emblem by Tosha Gobin and tribal members; Lolita, Luna and other orca news by Howard Garrett, Orca Network.

Admission is $15; educational displays will be available throughout the day, and lunch is available for $5. To register, e-mail info@orcanetwork.org.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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