Wyland's Whaling Wall was recently uncovered in downtown Dallas after ads were taken down during the pandemic. (Photo by Megan Ziots)
The very first Whaling Wall was painted in Laguna Beach in 1981. (Courtesy of Wyland Foundation)
"Washington Orcas" Whaling Wall in Tacoma, Washington. (Courtesy of Wyland Foundation)
Once the "Largest Mural in the World," Planet Ocean is located in Long Beach. (Courtesy of Wyland Foundation)
I have a faint memory of marine life artist Robert Wyland’s “Whaling Wall.” As a kid who grew up in the Dallas suburb of Allen, I remember catching glimpses of the massive 170-foot long, eight-story high mural of humpback whales swimming in the ocean on drives into the city to visit museums or the Dallas World Aquarium. Until now, I associated this elusive memory of the vibrant blue mural as part of the aquarium. You know, since it’s all about whales, dolphins, and fish.
But it was really the 82nd entry of Wyland’s series of 101 “Whaling Walls” that the artist painted around the world over the course of three decades. Completely free for the city in 1999, Dallas’ “Whaling Wall” was paid for through donations from Wyland’s foundation and his own time and money. Plano-based J.C. Penney also chipped in with supplies like paint and buckets.
Painter, sculptor, writer, photographer, and filmmaker are a few of Wyland’s titles, but his primary is probably conservationist. “Leading the front in water conservation,” as designated by former U.S. Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, Wyland’s foundation has been a non-profit dedicated to promoting, protecting, and preserving the world’s ocean, waterways, and marine life since 1993.
As part of his efforts to bring awareness to the cause, Wyland began painting his “Whaling Walls” in 1981 with “Gray Whale and Calf” in Laguna Beach, California, which was also recently resurrected. Many of his works take over giant landscapes like skyscrapers and sports arenas. His “Planet Ocean” mural, painted on the Long Beach Convention Center, was once the largest mural in the world.
As for his Dallas work, in 2005, Wyland’s “Whaling Wall” was covered up by outdoor advertising and was forgotten by many. That was until about six days ago, when Clear Channel Outdoor removed its current ad in the parking lot at 505 N. Akard Street and the six giant whales were revealed. It’s assumed by Wyland (see below) that it’s only because of the pandemic and companies pulling advertising that they were.
It is nice to have the mural back. I took a drive by the building today to reminisce on pre-coronavirus times, and even further back to my childhood. Although it could use a few touch ups — the years beneath AT&T ads and other less appealing scenes have taken their toll — Dallas’ “Whaling Wall“ is a breath of fresh air in a virus-stricken city.