A composite image of how the new license plate will look

For Oregon drivers choosing to forego the traditional mountainscape and Douglas fir background, salmon and wine have long been on the menu.

Now, the Oregon Department of Transportation is adding whales to its list of unique designs for passenger vehicle license plates, and a new sponsor system is streamlining the process of rolling out fancy new grillz for your car’s grill.

Recently, ODOT implemented a new procedure for creating new plates and applying for approval. First and foremost, “To qualify for the program, it has to be a non-profit [organization],” explains ODOT's David House. So, if you see drivers silently rooting for their beloved Blazers via their bumpers, it's the Trail Blazers' charitable foundation receiving the revenue, not the team. In short, the plates aren’t just advertisements, but opportunities for altruistic contribution.  

Once ODOT pre-approves a sponsor’s plate design, more than 3,000 vouchers are sent to the organization to sell to prospective buyers to prove adequate demand and funds. “Three-thousand is the minimum,” says House, and once the paperwork and payment are in line, the plates go off to production. It's Portland’s own Irwin-Hodson Co. (established 1894) that's been pumping out Oregon plates for decades.

The very first organization to apply for this new sponsorship program? The Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute.

“We were the first group to apply [in] September 2017,” says Bruce Mate, director of the institute. And it only took a few months to reach the sales goal. The institute receives $35 from each $40 plate, which Mate says benefits “research on marine mammals, graduate student education, and public outreach programs.”

The plate showcases a gray whale and her calf, designed pro-bono by marine mammal artist Pieter Folkens. Mate hopes the institute can raise additional money by auctioning off the original piece of art, from a man whom Mate describes as “a good friend to our program for decades.”

The new plate drops Friday, February 1, with a $40 surcharge due when you order the plate. (For those who already purchased a voucher, the voucher should be submitted in lieu of payment.) Depending on when your vehicle is up for registration renewal, fees will vary for obtaining the replacement plates. For more information on fees, contact your local ODOT location.

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