science environment

New Gray Whale License Plates Available In Oregon Feb. 1

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Jan. 30, 2019 10:32 p.m.

Beginning Friday, Oregonians can show off their love for marine life with a new gray whale license plate.

The idea for the license plate was pitched by Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute to the Oregon DMV’s specialty license plate program.


“Like many of the specialty plates, they have their own unique surcharge and a portion of money goes to the Marine Mammal Institute. That’s the purpose of sponsoring a specialty plate,” said David House with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The plate, designed by illustrator Pieter Folkens, features a mother whale and her calf. The gray whale plates will be $40 a set, House said, with $35 of that surcharge going to the Marine Mammal Institute.

Oregon DMV

To sponsor a license plate in the specialty plate program, an organization is required to sell 3,000 pre-paid license plate vouchers before the DMV will agree to manufacture and distribute the plates.

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute reached its 3,000 sale goal in April of last year and then began the DMV’s “implementation process.”

House said that process includes showing the given design to the license plate manufacturer as well as law enforcement to make sure the image is replicable and will be easily visible on the road.


The plate will join the Oregon DMV’s numerous other specialty plates which direct portions of their sales to their respective organizations. Organizations with specialty plates include the Oregon Tourism Commission, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Cycle Oregon, and the Oregon Community Foundation, among others.

Around 90 percent of Oregon passenger car owners opt for the standard “tree” plates, House said, but a good number of specialty plates are still sold every year.

Last year, more than 41,000 sets of specialty plates were sold — not including group plates such as military service and university plates, as House said, “those tend to have smaller markets and often don’t even sell in the thousands.”

There have been almost 600,000 specialty plates sold in total since the salmon specialty plates, the earliest specialty plates still available, came out in 1998.

It’s hard to say which specialty plates are most popular, House said, as the sales data is not broken down annually for the plates.

“There is a surge when a plate is first introduced, and the size of that surge can vary based on the amount of the surcharge, whether the surcharge is one time only at issuance or also at every renewal, the state of the economy, etc.,” House wrote over email.

Specialty plate sponsors used to be able to set their own surcharge fee prior to 2017, House said, but the plate program was revised by the Legislature and the surcharge is now set at a standard $40.

For those interested in purchasing the new gray whale plates, House suggested that people can purchase the plates online or find downloadable forms on the Oregon DMV’s website to fill out before going into a field office.

The gray whale plates will only be available for Oregon-registered passenger vehicles. There will not be souvenir plates available for now.

There will be no pre-order opportunities, House said. Plates will be available Friday, Feb. 1.