Cruise Town, Ep. 2: The Whale and the Head Tax

Herman Savikko of Douglas takes a photo of his sister Michele Savikko Bilyeu and her husband Larry Bilyeu of Salem, Oregon, at Overstreet Park in Juneau on July 3, 2018.

Herman Savikko of Douglas takes a photo of his sister Michele Savikko Bilyeu and her husband Larry Bilyeu of Salem, Oregon, at Overstreet Park in Juneau on July 3, 2018. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)


Tahku is a life-size statue of a humpback whale breaching from a reflecting pool, complete with water works. It’s a fairly new addition to Juneau’s waterfront, but it’s already iconic.

The statue is about a mile walk from the closest cruise ship dock — which is about a mile too far for some people. Because Tahku is basically a giant whale-shaped embodiment of Juneau’s relationship to the cruise industry.

The whale statue itself was privately funded, but the park where it lives and the restrooms, the cute cafe style tables and chairs and even the colored lights and the pump that runs the fountain were almost entirely funded by a controversial tax.

Juneau was one of the first places in the world to charge a per-person tax on cruise ship passengers. Then, the cruise industry actually sued the city over it, pointing its finger right at Tahku, singling it out as a prime example of the city’s irresponsible use of the cruise ship passenger tax.

So, in Juneau now, a whale statue is not just a whale statue: it’s a very large symbol for how Cruise Town benefits from hosting cruise ship tourists.

Jeremy Hsieh (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

Adelyn Baxter (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

Jennifer Pemberton (Photo by Rashah McChesney / KTOO)

 

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