Miami Mystery: What are those fins on the 79th Street Causeway?

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I was riding my bike from the mainland to Miami Beach along the 79th Street causeway when I noticed something strange at the Pelican Harbor Marina. Almost two dozen massive, gray, airplane wing-looking structures were jutting straight out of the marina’s grassy lawn.

“Was there a crash?” I asked myself.

I wondered about it for weeks. While exploring North Beach for our neighborhood guide, it seemed like the perfect time to finally solve the mystery. I started by ringing up the Pelican Harbor Marina office.

“I think they’re from submarine war ships,” the voice at the other end of the line said. Um, cryptic much?! Obviously I had endless follow-up questions, but the park attendee couldn’t help much more. He suggested I walk around and look for a placard.

giphy (36)Face palm. I went back to the park and lo and behold, it was indeed an art project, complete with a description, a phone number for the artist, and website I could check out for more info. (None of the phone numbers actually worked and the website was a bit dated — but I persevered.)

I managed to connect with the artist, John T. Young, a Washington-based sculptor who has created large scale public artworks all around the world. The piece entitled, “The Fin Project: From Swords Into Plowshares,” is a “minimalist monument to world peace,” he says.

The project came to life two decades ago. The U.S. Navy, whose scrapyard is based in Bremerton, Wash., was looking for something innovative to do with nuclear warship scraps from the Cold War. Young, who was a professor at the University of Washington at the time, had the perfect solution: turn the nuclear submarines into public art. He wanted to make them a statement about peace instead of war.

He had three spots in mind: Seattle, Miami, and Kronstadt Island, off of the coast of St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Seattle, the first place Young went with his idea, he repurposed fins from 1960s submarines used by the U.S. Navy during the Cold War. He chopped and arranged them to look like a school of Orca whales swimming through Magnuson Park in Seattle, Washington, a former U.S. Navy base. That was in 1998.

The piece here in Miami came next, in 2002.

He picked Miami because he wanted an east coast counterpart to his west coast installation, plus he has a lot of family in Miami and loves the area.

Young chose a park on the 79th Street causeway because its actual name is the John F. Kennedy Causeway, and JFK was one of the main Cold War presidents.

This time, instead of Orca whales, Young wanted to create a pod of dolphins, so he painted the fins gray instead of black. And he was able to get governmental approval to put the fins near the water’s edge, something he wasn’t able to do in Seattle, so now it looks like the dolphins are coming up out of and going back into the water. The 24 fins, which were donated by the U.S. Navy, each weigh close to 10,000 pounds.

“Miami’s also a great place for submariners from the Navy who are veterans to have their reunions,” Young said. “Sometimes they’ll meet [at Pelican Harbor Marina] and they find the fin of the boat they served on and hug the fins.”

The third version in Russia was in the works, but was put on pause in the mid-2000s because then-President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin weren’t getting along. But a third installation in Russia remains Young’s dream because Russia was our arch rival during the Cold War.

“That would be the ultimate one. I’ll probably die trying,” he said.