The Sculpture of Thunderstorm (SN060)

Template for Measurements

Template for Measurements

Applying the First Layer of Concrete

Applying the First Layer of Concrete

Positioning the Fin

Positioning the Fin

Marking Fin Nicks on Next Layer

Marking Fin Nicks on Next Layer

Marking Saddle Patch with Chalk and ID Catalogue

Marking Saddle Patch with Chalk and ID Catalogue

Discussing the Final Appearance

Discussing the Final Appearance

Taking Care of Last Details

Taking Care of Last Details

In the summer of 2016, the village of Grundar-fjörður received a gift to raise awareness of the presence of the most charismatic, superior and fascinating animals that can be found around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – the orcas. A 1.5 ton life-size orca sculpture, along with a chart of explanations in Icelandic, English, German and French, adorns the lawn across the village’s old people’s home. This piece of art by Unnsteinn Guðmundsson is no ordinary storybook-depiction, it is modelled after a special male orca named “Thunderstorm”. Here is the full story:

When Unnsteinn approached Orca Guardians director Marie in April 2016 with the secret idea of building a life-size orca sculpture, this idea soon transformed into concrete plans, using measurements from existing scientific literature and animals that had previously been washed ashore. “Concrete” indeed, as the sculpture was supposed to be made of cement. Unnsteinn wanted to shape the sculpture after a memory from an encounter he had with a fully-grown male back in 2013, when the orcas were feeding close to shore, arching their backs repeatedly to dive straight down. The sculpture should depict precisely this movement, and it soon became apparent that the parts of the orca shown would be the fin, saddle patch, and back, with the rest of the animal imagined to “submerge” into the ground.
When Marie looked at pictures of Unnsteinn’s orca encounter from 2013, the male in the picture was likely to be the fully-grown male “Thunderstorm” (SN060 in the Orca Guardians ID catalogue – please see our ID catalogue section on how to tell apart individual orcas). So the thought arose to not only depict a storybook-fin, but even the exact markings and fin shape of this particular orca. This required studying pictures from several encounters from different angles and in various light conditions, to get an idea of the exact structure of both fin and saddle patch, as well as nicks and scars on the body.
In a great effort of 150 hours of work, Unnsteinn then created the sculpture, starting from scratch with a wooden structure to hold the main body, using wire frameworks for both body and fin, and many, many layers of concrete. In between, the sculpture was always critically assessed by its sculptor, making sure that form and size were true to the original. The sculpture was supposed to be a present and a surprise for the town on Unnsteinn’s birthday, but as it grew, it became increasingly difficult to hide it on the side of the house from curious glances of locals driving past.
Just before the black coating was applied, there came the tricky part of marking the area of the saddle patch, working in the scratches on there, and forming the nicks on the fin. After a few attempts using pictures and the ID catalogue as a template, the markings looked correct. Now, the final layer of black coating was applied, leaving out the saddle patch area. A period of bad weather (heavy rain and cold) set the project back a few days, but finally the 1.5 ton orca sculpture was lifted up into the air and placed on the lawn prepared to hold the weight (Unnsteinn did not have to completely give up his sculpture, as he can see it very well down the road from his house!).
To let the orca really “swim” instead of “biting the grass”, the local fire department came to set the area under water and create a small pond. In the wintertime, the orca dives into the snow and frozen water, making his black fin shine from afar, just like with his real counterparts. The finished orca sculpture is an excellent piece of craftsmanship and was presented to the major of Grundarfjörður on the 28th of June, 2016. It was photographed on new year’s eve with fireworks in the background (see below).

Wooden Framework of the Orca Back

Wooden Framework of the Orca Back

Wire Framework of the Fin

Wire Framework of the Fin

Connection Fin and Back

Connection Fin and Back

Cutting the Nicks into the Fin Tip

Cutting the Nicks into the Fin Tip

Adding the Scratches on the Saddle

Adding the Scratches on the Saddle

Applying the Black Coating

Applying the Black Coating

Lifting the Orca

Lifting the Orca

Add-On: What do we know about the real Thunderstorm (SN060)?

Thunderstorm (SN060) is a fully-grown male who roams the shores of Snæfellsnes each winter season – he has been spotted numerous times in the area within the last three years, and we hope to see him again next winter. Thunderstorm is a member of a core group of currently nine orcas, and most often seen with the younger orca Katla (SN058) swimming by his side. And he always seems to be game for any shenanigans with Katla! If you would like to learn more about Thunderstorm and his relatives, you can adopt Katla, who is an outgoing juvenile in the same core group as Thunderstorm. Snowflake (SN054) also belongs to this core group – she is a female that had a newborn calf in February 2016, and her adoption also features information about Thunderstorm.

Thunderstorm (SN060) Right Side

Thunderstorm (SN060) Right Side

Lowering the Sculpture onto the Bricks

Lowering the Sculpture onto the Bricks

Unnsteinn and Thunderstorm

Unnsteinn and Thunderstorm

The Sculpture of Thunderstorm
The Sculpture of Thunderstorm
The Sculpture of Thunderstorm

© Cover Picture: Tómas Freyr Kristjánsson © Firework Pictures: Maria Strömvik