When artist Robert Wyland was a teenager living in Michigan, he went on a trip to California. While swimming in the ocean off Laguna Beach, he saw two gray whales migrating to Mexico.
"When I came up I saw their spouts," Wyland tells the Ocean County Register. "It was like looking at dinosaurs. I'd been watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic. But I had never seen them live. That's when I knew I wanted to be an ocean artist."
Inspired by the encounter, he began drawing and painting and learning everything there was to know about whales. A few years later, he moved to Laguna Beach and not long thereafter, painted a mural on the wall of a building on the Pacific Coast Highway. It featured a whale and her calf.
He decided to eventually paint 100 of them and the Wyland Whaling Walls project was born. Over 30 years, in more than a dozen countries, Wyland has painted 100 life-sized murals of gray whales, humpbacks, orcas, blue whales, dolphins and other marine life. They are mostly outdoors, on everything from airports and high schools to marine parks and bus terminals. He started a foundation to help finance the murals and to educate kids about marine life.
The two-sided mural, above, was originally painted in 1999 at the Airport Center building in Honolulu and features Hawaii's native marine life. In 2017, there was a flap over the mural when the building was bought and had to be renovated. Wyland credited overwhelming support from the community for saving the mural.
Recently, Wyland has been restoring several of his murals including the 30,000-square-foot "Song of the Whales" (above) on the Cleveland Public Power building in Ohio. The restoration is part of the 8th Annual Wyland Foundation's National Mayors' Challenge for Water Conservation, bringing attention to water quality and conservation.
Fifty years ago, the polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire and burned, an event that called attention to the health of the nation's waterways.
Wyland recently posted on Facebook: "If each of us took the time to think about what is water wise and then made a small pledge to change simple things it really adds up."