Life-sized Cook Inlet beluga whale painting raises awareness for the endangered species

Life-sized beluga whale painting raises awareness for endangered species
Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 9:23 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskan artist James Havens had a purpose in mind when painting life-sized beluga whales on a gigantic 16-foot canvas.

The project, “Cook Inlet Beluga Whales” which features a juvenile and two adults, is designed to raise awareness for the species in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Havens hopes the educational art project will span generations for people to enjoy.

“It features a family unit of beluga whales [and] the Cook Inlet there at Beluga Point,” Havens said.

Havens, being from Anchorage, chose an animal that’s unique to Alaska and painted a pod of them.

“Finding out they’re so critically endangered kind of inspired me to want to create and maybe help out and get the word out of this wonderful species of whales,” Havens said.

The project only ended up taking roughly two and a half weeks to complete. It features the scenic Beluga Point archaeological site and the pod of whales in their natural environment. He hopes it will make a difference for the endangered species, which is currently one of NOAA’s Species in the Spotlight.

Havens’ larger paintings are typically done in large, public spaces and are meant for educational outreach for local communities.

“We had kids and older people and all ages came in and they learned about the beluga whale and some of them actually got to paint on the painting as well,” Havens said. “Usually they’re pretty scared at first, they’re kind of terrified, but once you put the brush in their hands you have to pull them off the canvas ... so that was an important part of this.”

Havens did face challenges while creating the belugas, which included creating various shades of white, making the surface of the whale and blending the shades together. The artist said he typically paints things with feathers, scales and creatures with more textures.

One of his previous projects included painting prehistoric dinosaurs, which are now on display at the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature in Anchorage.

“Once you get involved in a painting it’s kind of like a non-stop thing, it’s like you’re obsessed and you’re in there and can’t leave the room until it’s finished,” Havens said. “Each piece is an in-depth journey for me.”

Havens is excited to be wrapping up the project and is ready to move on to his next endeavor.

“I want to thank all my partners, NOAA, and all the people involved who every day are out there trying to monitor this whale and make sure they survive for future generations,” Havens said.

The original painting will be turned into a fundraising print in an effort to raise money for various organizations helping beluga whales, but right now it’s being featured at the University Center Mall.

Havens will also be joining NOAA on Saturday, Sept. 23, for the 5th annual belugas count and the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. He will be at the event at the Kincaid Outdoor Center from 1-5 p.m. where the painting will also be on display.