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Origami Whales Project at Smithsonian’s Folk Life Festival 2022

Environmental artist for cetaceans Peggy Oki was invited to bring her Origami Whales Project to Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival June 23 - July 5, 2022. Since 2004, the Origami Whales Project has welcomed global public participation and empowered all ages of the public to participate in creating environmental art installations to raise awareness about threats to cetaceans across the world.


Since 2004, the “Curtain of 40,000 Origami Whales” presents a powerful visual statement and memorial for the lives of whales reported killed by Japan, Norway, and Iceland since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on whaling of 1986.

Photo (left) Installation in Anchorage, AK during the IWC meetings in 2007.

Photo by Hannah Fraser

Click the button below to learn more.

 Smithsonian's Folk Life Festival 2022, brought “Entanglement, a Double Disaster” to raise awareness as a large scale public art piece visually representing the number of cetaceans (dolphins & whales) that die annually as a result of bycatch or entanglement in fishing gear. Festival goers were invited to help by folding origami dolphins and whales using upcycled papers based on the Origami Whales Project mantra; “We save trees while saving whales." Over the course of ten days during the Folk Life Festival, over 2,500 origami dolphins and whales were added in special arrangement to the two recovered fishing nets for the installation. Accompanying the display - a statement that the annual number of deaths from bycatch/entanglement is 120 times the number (2,500) of origami dolphins and whales in the installation.

Whale Net

“Entanglement, a Double Disaster” (Net 1 of 2) Humpback Whales have often been in the news as victims of entanglement. Entanglement and ship strikes pose the greatest threat to Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.

Photo (left) Installation with Peggy Oki, Origami Whales Project Founder & Director

Photo by Phillip R. Lee


“Entanglement, a Double Disaster” (Net 2 of 2)
Critically Endangered Vaquita Porpoise (Phoca sinus) have died primarily due to entanglement in gill net used by fishermen poaching Totoaba fish in the Sea of Cortez. Estimated remaining population: 10. (Right) Endangered Maui Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) of New Zealand, primary cause of death by entanglement in gill net used in commercial trawling fisheries. Estimated remaining population: 50

Photo by Phillip R. Lee

Nearly half of ocean plastic pollution is comprised discarded or lost fishing gear.

From the International Whaling Commission: "Bycatch is a global conservation and fisheries management issue. It is now seen as by far the single most serious, direct threat to cetaceans (dolphins and whales). Globally, it is estimated that at least 300,000 cetaceans are caught and killed as bycatch every year. It affects many species including turtles, sea birds, sharks and other non-target fish, as well as marine mammals."


Cetaceans can become entangled or wrapped in various types of fishing gear including nets, ropes and lines. Smaller species often die immediately as they are unable to reach the surface to breathe. The large size of some cetacean species means entanglement may not kill them immediately but instead can become a serious welfare issue as they tow heavy ropes, buoys, and nets for weeks, months or years before dying. Bycatch of cetaceans occurs in all kinds of fishing operations: from large industrial to localised artisanal fisheries. It also occurs in most types of fishing gear. Gillnets and entangling nets are known to cause the highest amount of cetacean bycatch. Large whales are particularly susceptible to becoming entangled in nets and ropes associated with pots and traps and Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) which are used to attract fish.

Visit Peggy Oki’s public speaking page to view her third 'World Oceans Day' keynote speaking presentation.

If you're interested in discussing an art installation with Peggy Oki, please contact her directly (click the button).

Bycatch/entanglement is the leading cause of death to cetaceans worldwide at a rate of over 300,000 annually. Please refer to the additional resources we have compiled on our 'Reference Articles' page. Thank you for diving in and asking what you can personally do to help Whales and our Oceans.

To learn more about bycatch and entanglement please watch the documentary 'Seaspiracy'.

Check out our 'Recommended Viewing' page for more information about this documentary and many others.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

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