California’s ‘whale’s tail’ license plate gets remake

August 3, 2011

One of California’s most popular specialized license plates, the “whale tail,” got a makeover recently as a result of a legal battle between the California Coastal Commission and artist Robert Wyland. [San Francisco Chronicle]

The commission unveiled the redesign Tuesday, featuring a humpback’s tail arcing out of the water under a sunny sky and puffy white clouds.

The alteration occurred after Wyland, a well-known marine life muralist, who originally donated the image, demanded a 20 percent cut of the sales of the license plate, which have raised $60 million for a range of environmental programs throughout the state.

In the Bay Area, for example, the money funds ocean study grants for UC Berkeley students, marine education programs for disabled children, coastal cleanup efforts, habitat restoration and improvements to waterfront trails.

The new plate was created after the commission rejected Wyland’s 2008 demand for a cut of the profits. Rather than scrap the lucrative program officials came up with a new design.

The new image is the work of two winners of a competition to rework the plate. Bill Atkins is an Orange County graphic artist and Elizabeth Robinette Tyndall is a landscape painter who lives on Bethel Island in Contra Costa County.

The whale tail is one of about a dozen specialty plates available through the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Others display Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, symbols of veterans’ organizations, and the silhouette of a firefighter.

By far, the most popular is the “kids” plate, which has sold more than 230,000 and portrays a small dark hand print. The proceeds of that image benefit the Child Health and Safety Fund, which assists in child safety reforms and in licensing of state child care centers.



  1. Turquoise says:

    I love the new plate! We’ve had the old one for a long time, but this image is much clearer and I’m looking forward to putting it on our car. The money it brings to environmental organizations is pretty great too.

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  2. NorCoMod says:

    One of the plates is the silhouette of a fire fighter? Really?
    Somehow when I think of the heroes, treasures and natural wonders of California, the image of a fireman (firefighter in modern speak) isn’t what pops into my mind.

    (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
  3. smartmouth says:

    I Agree with BTDT . . . It is called a DONATION! Doesn’t Mr. Wyland have enough money by now? Pullleeez!

    On another note . . . always did wonder what that little blue handprint meant.

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  4. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    I respect Wyland’s right to ask for money BUT he should have done that before hand. You don’t donate something and then come back at a later point wanting to rewrite the deal. You screwed up at first…. LIVE WITH IT!! Next time ask first.

    (7) 7 Total Votes - 7 up - 0 down

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