2014-01-10 / Community

Whale Of A Tale: The Whalemina Evolution

By Dan Guarino


The Central Park Jonah’s Whale at the Children’s Zoo, before she became Rockaway’s Whalemina. Photo courtesy of Gerry Egan. The Central Park Jonah’s Whale at the Children’s Zoo, before she became Rockaway’s Whalemina. Photo courtesy of Gerry Egan. Gerry Egan of Beach 128th Street brought back some memories when she recently brought a photo of Whalemina to The Wave.

She found it while going through post- Sandy belongings. Dating from around 1977, it captures the big W’s life before she came to Rockaway and changed her name from Jonah’s Whale to Whalemina.

In 2008, blogger Kathleen Riley- Daniels, noted, “In its heyday, Jonah’s Whale was the star attraction at the zoo, outshining the White Rabbit and Hansel and Gretel’s Cottage. The Children’s Zoo was built in 1961, but eventually fell into disrepair, and in the 1980’s, it was derided as kitsch.”

It would be a long and bumpy road for the whale as it made its way toward her second act along the Atlantic shore. Eventually, she was saved from the fishy scrap heap through the letters of hundreds of Rockaway schoolchildren requesting that she be rescued and moved from Central Park to the peninsula. The City finally relented.


Jonah’s Whale and Noah’s Ark in the Central Park Children’s Zoo. Photo courtesy Kathleen Riley-Daniels. Jonah’s Whale and Noah’s Ark in the Central Park Children’s Zoo. Photo courtesy Kathleen Riley-Daniels. “But,” the New York Times reported in 1997, “it has been all downhill for the whale, renamed Whalemina, since its mysterious 15-mile, four-hour journey from Manhattan to Queens last August. Its tail was lopped off. Its jaw collapsed”

Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi noted, “Now, almost a year later, the leviathan faces resurrection or death. Two rusting garbage cans prop up its mouth. Its spout yawns larger than an open umbrella. Vandals have sliced off the right fin from the tail, like a piece of sushi. And last month, a homeless man was seen crawling into its belly.”


Shining in the Rockaway sun, Whalemina takes up residence. Photo by Robert Wilson. Shining in the Rockaway sun, Whalemina takes up residence. Photo by Robert Wilson. But just like Rockaway, the feisty whale wasn’t done yet.

Fast forward to May of 2008. The Rockaway Artists Alliance website announced “Whalemina invites you all to open our beaches on Friday May 23rd!” Local artist and then RAA President Geoff Rawling wrote ““Believe it or not we have been decorating our favorite whale with mosaic for close to 10 years now. This labor of love has finally been realized and the last pieces are going into place.

“There are far too many names to mention all the individuals who have given their time and talent to this unique public artwork,” he wrote.

RAA members and volunteers, under Rawling’s direction, and others had stabilized her structure, closed the gaping mouth and imaginatively covered Whalemina with sparkling green, white and blue tiles. At its Rockaway home at Beach 95th Street and Shore Front Parkway, she became a beloved landmark and member of the community.


A decorated Whalemina before the storm. A decorated Whalemina before the storm. Then came Hurricane Sandy and Whalemina was gone..

“I actually found the tail after the storm,” Rawling said. It had landed in someone’s front yard.

Others found bits of bright shiny mosaic tiles that once decorated her sides. Other evidence was simply gone.

Local interest remained however. Even in post-storm Rockaway there was a strong feeling that the beloved whale should be replaced.

Artist and resident Tom Kerr, noting the interest, sketched a number of possible designs for a new whale installation. His ‘what-if’ ideas, posted over the summer via Facebook, generated much discussion.

Other residents are going even further to make a new Whalemina a reality.

In a public message on behalf of Projects of Peace, musician and resident Mike Benedetto noted that since the loss of this “well-known and beloved landmark, Rockaway Beach has never been the same.” In an effort to bring back The Rockaway Whale, (the group) has taken on the task of rebuilding a new and improved whale.”

Benedetto and co-founder Matt Schilling told The Wave that in 2012 the non-profit Projects of Peace “was originally established to help various types of local artists jumpstart their respected careers.”

Now, with Geoff Rawling’s involvement as artistic director, we “have also begun collaborating as a team on what we are dubbing ‘The Whale Project’.”

The final phase of this plan, which involves fabricating a new, large scale, new whale, “formally known as ‘Whalemina’ is actually considered to be one of our long-term projects, given the fact we estimate its construction to take 3-to-5 years and the fact we plan on housing it in a museum-like space that will take approximately 5-to-7 years to construct.

“It is our intention to engage in a number of fundraising events to generate the funds that are needed to undertake a project of this magnitude. Our first fundraising event will be held on February 15th, at The Irish Circle” from 7 p.m. on.

The First Annual Rockaway Whale-APalooza Concert is scheduled to feature such performers as Grim Pickens, Frank Persico, Rattrap Bumpkin, Squid, Walker Hornung and other talented musicians from Rockaway and nearby areas.

Funds raised will go toward the design, construction and placement of a new Whalemina.

“I think it will kind of help Rockaway get back to normal,” Benedetto has said. “We would want to dedicate it to the first responders and volunteers who were there for everyone in the community.”

Anyone wishing to contribute can also make a donation by going to www.gofundme.com/4x1fy0.

From Central Park to Rockaway, to plans for another life, this is one whale of a tale.

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