California’s iconic Whale Tail license plate is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with money from the popular plates flowing up and down the state, including several programs in Santa Monica.

The plates are issued by the DMV and the additional money is transferred to the California Coastal Commission who then issue grants to hundreds of local agencies.

The Whale Tail plate isn’t the State’s only fundraiser option. Plates featuring redwoods and Lake Tahoe are also available but the Whale plate is far and away the most successful of the batch and Chris Parry, public education manager for the commission, said the image of a grey whale seems to resonate with Californians.

“The image of the whale is so iconic it’s actually the official state marine mammal, the California grey whale. I feel like people really respond to that image. It just evokes the wildness of the ocean and I feel like people connect to that image and understand it’s about conservation and taking care of this amazing wild space.”

She said the whale’s sense of mystery is appealing.

“People are fascinated by them,” she said. “They’re something you can see but so mysterious and other-worldly.”

About a quarter of a million plates have been issued in over the program’s 20-year history with revenues totaling more than $95 million. A standard whale plate costs $50 with a $40 per year renewal fee. A personalized plate runs $103 with an $83 renewal fee.

Parry said the money is used across the state to further coastal education and action.

“It’s a charitable contribution the funds go through different ocean and education conservation projects,” she said.

She said more than 600 programs have received money from the grants over the years and while applications fluctuate year to year, there is a steady follow of between 40-50 grants awarded per year.

Parry said education efforts that reach inland communities are an important way to connect residents to the coast, even if they don’t live near the ocean and stewardship programs help keep the coast clean for everyone.

“It’s education and stewardship,” she said. “Education with the intention of raising awareness about what’s at risk, what they can do, how they can play a role in protection and education of the coast. The stewardship translates to programs in the field, getting people out, doing projects like restoration work and beach cleanups are another example of that.”

Locally, Heal the Bay receives money from the plates.

“Our adopt a beach program funded solely through the license plate program allowed us last year to do over 400 cleanups in the Santa Monica Bay,” said Heal The Bay’s Director Of Programs Meredith McCarthy. “That is people hand picking the tiny pieces of trash that our beach maintenance crews are just unable to collect at that scale.”

She said the money is a significant funding source for the organization’s efforts.

“It allows us to connect with over 40,000 people that maybe don’t live right along the coast but are absolutely connected to the coast no matter where they live,” she said.

McCarthy said the consistency of the funding is as important as the total dollar amount because it allows organizations to plan and grow. She said Heal the Bay was thrilled to draw 100 people to its early cleanups but thanks to funding from groups like the Coastal Commission, they can now draw 500-700 people on a monthly basis.

“It is consistent money and that is one of the rare things. Foundations come and go over the years but the fact is we’ve been able to grow this program.”

The plate is celebrating its 20th anniversary but the current version was first issued in 2011. The now iconic image is a collaboration between Elizabeth Tyndall and Bill Atkins who were chosen from more than 300 applicants.

For more information on the plates or to apply for one, visit


Local programs receiving ‘Whale Tail’ funding

Heal the Bay for continuing the Adopt-A-Beach Program in Los Angeles County ($30,000). For holding large monthly public cleanup events, leading volunteers to clean beaches following rainstorms, and transporting students from underserved inland schools for a beach cleanup and educational presentation.

Surfrider Foundation, West Los Angeles/Malibu Chapter for the Teach & Test Program at Santa Monica High School ($39,135). To develop a state-of-the-art ocean chemistry laboratory to help students conduct water quality testing and study patterns of pollution levels. Their findings were shared with community members as well as other students

Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education to produce an instructional DVD featuring the Adopt-A-Beach school assembly program ($25,000) featuring expanded content, quizzes, animation, and beach cleanup footage.