World coins highlight oceanic mammals

Whales, dolphins, porpoises frolic on many pieces
Published : 04/28/12
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Whales, dolphins and porpoises are infinitely fascinating to human beings.

From the earliest days of seafaring, tales have been written about these intelligent creatures, and in recent times they have been the subject of many a scientific inquiry. It’s why Americans pay millions of dollars every year to go on whale-watching tours at sea and to visit dolphins at aquariums. The world’s nations know that commemorative coins featuring whales and dolphins are more certain to enjoy strong sales than those featuring many other animals.

Highly intelligent and social, killer whales are actually a type of dolphin and are more commonly referred to nowadays as orcas. They hunt in packs feasting on fish and large sea mammals like seals. They are not considered a threat to humans in the wild, but in captivity several orcas have attacked human trainers. Just as humans group into families, neighborhoods, towns and states, orcas congregate in matrilines, pods, clans and communities. These marine mammals have a lifespan similar to humans as well, living up to 90 years in the wild.

A substantial orca population lives off the cost of British Columbia in western Canada. In 2011, that nation honored them on an unusual gold-plated, square-shaped .925 fine silver $3 coin. This is one of six different orca-themed coins issued by Canada since 1992. The Isle of Man, Palau, North Korea, Tokelau, Australia, Marshall Islands, Congo and Uganda also have issued coins featuring the orca.

The Maui Chamber of Commerce started the Maui trade dollar tokens program in 1992 to raise funds for its nonprofit foundation and to highlight the native Hawaiian wildlife. The trade dollar tokens have been very popular with tourists and exonumia collectors. The dollar-sized tokens are purchased for $2 (or for $5 from the chamber’s website) and can be spent in Maui, but most are kept as souvenirs. Whales and dolphins have been popular animals depicted on these copper-nickel tokens, including a humpback whale featured in 1998.

Formerly known as “Canadian trade dollars,” Canadian municipal trade tokens are created for nonprofit fund-raising just like the Maui trade dollars. These have been issued by various Canadian cities and provinces since 1958 and have a temporary local value ranging from 5 cents to several dollars. The ringed-bimetallic tokens are especially popular with collectors, such as the $3 token issued in 2005 from the city of St. Andrews by the Sea in New Brunswick. It features a North Atlantic right whale with calf.

The Galapagos Islands, as a part of Ecuador, do not issue separate coinage, so the 2008 silver-plated rectangular $8 Galapagos “coin” is actually a medal or a fantasy coin. Struck for tourists, it is just the right shape to showcase a breaching (jumping) humpback whale, an activity all baleen whales enjoy.

Porpoises are not small dolphins but a unique type of cetacean that are related to dolphins and whales. The harbour porpoise is the smallest porpoise of all and lives in many places, including the Baltic Sea. They may even be found in rivers. In 2004, Poland issued a 2-zloty coin honoring this small species as part of its series “Animals of the World.”

Dolphins are often found on more circulating and commemorative world coins than whales and porpoises combined, and have been commonly seen on coinage since ancient times, including ancient Greek drachmas. Denmark has a history of dolphin coins going back to the 1870s. The graceful curved body of a dolphin was typically used as part of a “frame” on lower denomination ore coins, like wheat stalks were used on Lincoln, Wheat cents.

Dolphins are frequent visitors to the Bay of Gibraltar and on the coinage of this Commonwealth nation. Gibraltar’s seven-sided 1999 50-pence coin has a clever design featuring five dolphins swimming or even dancing in a circle.

The Atlantic Ocean is the western boundary of Portugal, so the bottlenose dolphin is a familiar animal to the Portuguese. Two years before the euro was introduced in Portugal in 1999, the country issued a ringed-bimetallic 200-escudo coin that was an instant hit with collectors of bimetallic and animal coins. The copper-nickel center within the copper-aluminum ring shows a pod of swimming dolphins on one side and ocean waves on the other. It was designed to commemorate the 1998 Lisbon World Expo.

Topical coin collectors will always have new issues to look forward to within this category. Dozens of nations have minted cetacean coins in modern times, and the world continues to “porpoisely” honor these amazing ocean mammals on coins, medals and tokens. ■

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