Orca bill resurrected

Approximately one year ago, students at Oak Harbor’s Crescent Harbor Elementary School spearheaded a campaign to have the orca declared the state’s marine mammal.

After petitioning and writing state legislators, the bill died last year on the House floor before a hearing could take place.

However, school officials were surprised to find the bill had been re-introduced in the House and is being considered again.

“We were astounded that it became a new bill,” said Bonnie Alanis, second-grade teacher at Crescent Harbor.

When she learned of the new bill, she got this year’s second graders involved in promoting the bill. She sent a letter home to parents encouraging them to contact local legislators Chris Strow and Barbara Bailey.

If the legislation is approved, Washington will join several other ocean states that have an official marine mammal. Georgia and Maryland have the right whale, Alaska has the bowhead whale, Hawaii has the humpback whale, California has the gray whale and Florida has the manatee. Coincidentally, neighboring Oregon doesn’t have an official marine mammal.

“We think that it would be a unique and perfect symbol for our state,” said Peggy Mihalik, a library assistant at Crescent Harbor. She has helped the second graders with the project since it started a year ago.

She said the orca is an important figure in local Native American tribes and pushed the idea to the second graders who study the mammals every year.

Alanis said she focuses on orcas because students find them interesting and, for many who are military dependents and move around a lot, it gives them something noteworthy about the area to remember.

The bill clearly has support from various state representatives.

“I think its a great idea,” said Rep. Chris Strow. He said it provides a good opportunity for young students to learn about the legislative process.

Alanis tied in aspects of social studies and language arts for her students this year. During a recent class, students were busy learning how to write their representatives.

When the bill failed last year, she invited Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen to talk about citizenship.

Strow added that the orca boosts an important part of the tourism industry as tourists flock to the region each year to watch whales.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton sponsored the bill along with 26 other representatives as co-sponsors, including Strow and fellow 10th District Rep. Barbara Bailey. The bill is currently in the Rules Committee.

A state marine mammal isn’t the only time students have worked to get state recognition for an animal. Students at Crestwood Elementary School in Kent succeeded in having the green darner dragonfly named the state insect in 1997 and students at Windsor Elementary School near Cheney worked to have the Colombian mammoth named the state fossil in 1998.

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