Boston’s Missing: The Whale and the Dolphins

We generally notice when new things appear but don’t always register when something disappears. We can lose track even when that something is the size of a whale, has bright colors and moves.

New England Aquarium, Boston, Waterfront, Long Wharf

New England Aquarium

Perhaps we assume that it has just been removed temporarily and will return when nearby construction or renovations have ended. Into that category I put “John Singleton Copley” and the “Tortoise and the Hare,” two statues removed from Copley place during its latest facelift.

It does not apply, however, to “Echo of the Waves.” This statue once graced the plaza outside the New England Aquarium but went missing in1998.

Echo of the Waves: The Whales

Susumu Shingu
Painted steel and fiber-reinforced plastic, 1983
45’ at rest, 65‘with wings extended

You might remember this statue. If you lived in Boston before 1998 you probably stood on the plaza outside the New England Aquarium, watching it bob and rise, dive and lift, with the wind. The movement simulated that of a swimming whale so well that most of us thought of it as just “The Whale.”

“Echo of the Waves,” completed by Japanese sculptor Susumu Shingu in September 1981, was dedicated on July 6, 1983. (NOTE: If it reminded you of the moving sculpture in Porter Square, it’s because “Gift of the Wind” was also done by Mr. Shingu.)

The kinetic statue’s hypnotic and fascinating movements made it seem almost as alive as its subject. As Marty Carlock says in “A Guide to Public Art in Greater Boston,”

“Its majestic swimming motions imitate in an abstract but recognizable way the movement of nature’s largest creatures, yet it moves for hours without repeating the same configuration. Although the wings are responsive to subtle movements of air, the artist has employed aerodynamic techniques to damp their motion in heavy weather.”

The Disappearing Whale

That lasted for 15 years.

Echo of the Waves, Susumu Shingu, New England Aquarium. whale

“Echo of the Waves” from beneath

But in 1998 the New England Aquarium expanded its building outward into the plaza and “Echo of the Waves” disappeared. Once construction was complete, however, the statue did not return. Unlike “Helion” and “Quest Eternal,” neither did it resurface in another location.

Our favorite whale has been gone for 25 years. Whole generations of children have passed through that plaza without looking in awe at the giant sculpture with its mesmerizing movements. No little kid has pointed up at it with ice-cream-sticky fingers. It is as lost to us as the paintings stolen in the Gardner Museum heist or the State Street Bank’s N.C. Wyeth murals.

The Echo Gone Forever

Where did “Echo of the Waves” go? I hate to report this, but it went into oblivion. Pam Bechtold Snyder, Director of Marketing and Communications for the New England Aquarium, provided this reply to my inquiry:

“Unfortunately, that sculpture no longer exists. When it was taken down, our CEO at the time tried working with the donor to find a new location for it, but one could not be identified. The sculpture was then put in storage, where it fell into poor condition due to natural deterioration beyond our control, something we learned during the pandemic. At that time, the Aquarium had been closed for five and a half months and was struggling financially, so we consulted with the donor and the artist and made the decision not to restore it. It has since been deconstructed.”

How sad that no money could not be found in Boston to store the sculpture safely or restore if when construction was done. Of course, the pandemic messed up a lot of good things and caused problems everywhere. As to location, we know that 25 years ago the waterfront and the Seaport looked very different than they do now. Today it would likely be easier to find a place in the Seaport suitable for the sculpture’s size. It might even have become the focal point for a park or plaza. Now that it is gone for good,we will never know.

Dolphins of the Sea

Dolphins of the Sea, Katherine Ward Lane Weems, Harborwalk, New England Aquarium, Harbor Towers, Boston Harbor Garage

“Dolphins of the Sea”

Katherine Ward Lane Weems
Bronze, 1977
4’ × 3’ × 7’

On the other hand, a pod of bottlenose dolphins remains on the waterfront, although they no longer swim in their first location. Originally, “Dolphins of the Sea” stood in a fountain on the State Street side of the Boston Marriott Long Wharf.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the area bounded by the Marriott hotel, the New England Aquarium, Legal Seafoods and Don Chiofaro’s Boston Harbor garage, I think I know why the fountain was demolished and the statue moved. That area swarms with buses, limos, cars, duck boats, trolleys, and people all hurrying to get where they need to be. I think the statue just got in the way—specifically of the duck boats, which pulled up along that side of State Street.

On the Harborwalk

"Dolphins of the Sea", Katherine Ward Lane Weems, New England Aquarium, Boston Harbor Garage, HarborwalkWithout fanfare, someone moved it across the plaza to its current location on the Harborwalk between the Aquarium and the Harbor Towers residential buildings.

In between the Harborwalk and the Rose Kennedy Greenway stands the large Boston Harbor Garage. That means you will see the statue if you are Waymarking, walking along that stretch of the Harborwalk, or seeking it out. Otherwise, “Dolphins of the Sea” will probably not come to your attention.

I suppose, however, that’s better than being assaulted daily by tourists seeking their destination, commuters trying to make their ferry, and hotel guests wielding luggage. Kids still find it, though, as we can see by the polished bronze of the dolphins’ backs. A little girl was playing on it when I got there to take a few pictures.

Katherine Ward Lane Weems

Nineteenth-century sculptor Katherine Ward Lane Weems, a Boston native, specialized in animal statues. She created the two life-size rhinoceroses that stand outside Harvard’s Cellular and Molecular Biology building in Cambridge. A copy of one of those beasts guards the entrance to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in the Fenway.

You can find “Dolphins of the Sea” easily. Face the aquarium and look right along the Harborwalk, just past the garage. You will see the statue right in front of you.

So, the whale has left Boston but the dolphins remain.