Bubbles the pilot whale, a beloved part of South Bay’s marine history, can once again jump for joy atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
For more than 30 years, Marineland of the Pacific has been a tourist destination on the peninsula. For years, Bubbles has been one of its top attractions. Pilot whale joined Orky and Corky Killer Whales to provide hours of marine entertainment for families.
Until the park closed in 1987, a 26-foot fiberglass statue of Bubbles marked its entrance.
And, now, the town of Rancho Palos Verdes and a group of locals are re-igniting the effort to find better accommodation for Bubbles, who has been housed for more than three decades in the town’s maintenance yard.
At its August 3 rancho Palos Verdes City Council meeting, the panel confirmed a 2017 decision to install Bubbles as part of an entrance mark just north of the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. Council also asked staff to reissue a request for proposals to design the marquee and to work with community members to raise funds to restore the statue.
âI am delighted to see that there is some momentum and interest in our community to privately fund the restoration of Bubbles,â said Mayor Eric Alegria.
Marineland, now the location of Terranea Resort, was opened in 1954. It closed after tumultuous years of declining attendance, multiple owners, and financial hardship. But for many, Marineland still evokes lasting childhood memories.
Council member David Bradley said he grew up on the peninsula with memories of Bubbles outside Marineland.
âI know Bubbles is probably a little bit long in the tooth,â Bradley said. “It was a fiberglass model that was probably meant to have a useful life of about 20 to 25 years.”
But, said Bradley, while Bubbles would need major restoration work, he “would love to have that nod to Rancho Palos Verdes and the 1950s and ’60s peninsula.”
Bubbles was captured off the coast of California in the 1960s. She played in her own stadium until Marineland closed. The pilot whale was then transferred to SeaWorld in San Diego, according to an Associated Press article in June 2016. Bubbles later died at SeaWorld in her mid-fifties.
A drive to find a home for the Bubbles statue began in 2014 when resident Robert Craig and his daughter came across the dilapidated statue while walking their dog.
In 2017, the city council approved PVIC as the best location for the statue. According to a report from City staff, two design and construction proposals were submitted with estimated costs of $ 225,000 to $ 285,000 or between $ 150,000 and $ 180,000. The estimates were never presented or approved by city council, according to the staff report, and did not include the cost of restoring Bubbles.
An estimate of around $ 20,000, which included sandblasting, bodywork, painting and polishing, to restore stature was submitted by a restoration company in 2016.
Jon Sansom said on Wednesday that he and a group of residents had formed a committee to explore fundraising options. These will likely be launched when the city releases the new requests for proposals for work on the statue, he said.
Sansom said there had been efforts to restore the statue in 2019, but these were interrupted by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sansom, who said he often visited Marineland as a child, said he immediately knew they were Bubbles in the town’s maintenance yard. He was attending a July 4th celebration and parked there.
âIt was something in me that just wanted to preserve it, I felt like Indiana Jones was finding a treasure,â Sansom said.
Sansom said it was important for the restoration to start soon, as Bubbles is in pretty bad shape.
âI don’t think another year or so would be in any condition, even to save,â Sansom said. “It’s going to need a lot of restoration and repair.”
And, Sansom noted, because PVIC is a pilot whale census area, the location is appropriate since the era of captive whale breeding is over thanks to activists.
âIt’s more about honoring the oceans and the whales,â Sansom said.