WPS students honor 'whale guy' for 30 years of visits

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Three decades ago, Woodland Primary School teacher Sandi George attended a gray whale slideshow presentation in Vancouver. Fascinated, she asked the speaker if he would drive up to Woodland and share his stories with her first grade class.

John L. Ford said yes and has visited George’s class—and the rest of Woodland’s first-grade classes—every year since. Although he lives 180 miles way, in Waldport, Oregon, last week marked the 30th visit by the man now known in Woodland as “the whale guy.”

“It’s become part of our culture at Woodland for him to come,” George said. “The kids are enthralled.”

This time, in honor of this 30th anniversary, the entire school prepared a surprise for Ford: Students painted a long hallway, turning it into a seascape featuring a giant whale, a ship and a superhero modeled after Ford himself. It was unveiled May 13 after a presentation honoring Ford.

whale        crabs

Trained as a photojournalist, Ford became involved decades ago in research that used photos to identify individual whales and sort out their habitats. He has since worked with whales from Baja California to Vancouver Island to Maui, and his photographs have appeared in National Geographic.

“I’ve been eye to eye with these animals—,” Ford said, “in a sea kayak.”

Today he works with the marine mammal stranding network, essentially as a first responder for injured marine life. He also does nature and history presentations, and manages a store in Waldport.

But every year he—and often his wife, Stephanie, and daughter, Sierra—make time to bring a bit of the sea to Woodland. The students anticipate his visit, with every first grader selecting a marine animal to research and present to their classes. On the third day of Ford’s visit, they play a game he invented, called “Who Wants to be an Ocean Ranger?”

“He always says how impressed he is with what our kids know,” George said.

This year Ford spent three days at the Primary School making presentations and giving students an opportunity to see and touch items like whale scapula, rib bones, jaws, baleen and vertebrae.

whale guy teaching

“I’ll have seniors in high school see me in town or in the hallway at school,” Ford said, “and they’ll go ‘I remember when you were in my first-grade class.’”

Asked why he has continued making the trip, he said, “They keep asking me.” Then he added, “It’s kind of our passion. It’s fun.”


Check out the video made by Woodland Primary School: 

 Read media coverage of the Whale Guy's visit: