He is known by a single name: Wyland.
Born and raised in Detroit, the automotive capital of the United States, Wyland's hero was ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau - whose adventures he watched on television during the 1960s and 1970s - inspired him as a boy.
"He had such a passion for the ocean that he instilled in a whole generation of people like myself," says Wyland.
Stamp of approval
Wyland used that passion to become an artist and activist whose monumental murals promote ocean conservation and marine life protection efforts.
Marine artist and activist Wyland
Wyland's work has inspired a new collection of stamps, put out by the United Nations Postal Administration.
The four stamps mark the 50th anniversary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which promotes the research and protection of the ocean.
The stamps can only be used when mailed from U.N. facilities.
Wyland saw the ocean for the first time on a family vacation to California when he was 14 years old.
"I remember seeing the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach and just immersed myself in it," he says. "It felt like I was being reborn."
When Wyland resurfaced, a huge gray whale spouted right in front of him. He says the sight of it changed his life. Ten years after that first whale encounter, Wyland moved to Laguna Beach and struggled to make his living as an artist.
"I felt that if I created good art, good things would happen," he says.
And Wyland thought big. In 1981 he painted his first life-size whale on the wall of the Hotel Laguna parking lot. The mural stopped traffic and helped launch Wyland's career as a marine artist and advocate for whales and their habitat.
"As the environmental movement grew, so did the appreciation of my art, and eventually I became very successful," he says.
Wyland spent more than two decades painting 100 marine murals in cities across the globe.
When Wyland was 25, he made a 30-year promise to himself. He would paint 100 marine murals in cities across the globe. He finished the "Whaling Walls" in 2009, three years ahead of schedule.
He did the murals for free, recruiting volunteers and children to work with him.
"If we can inspire these kids to be better stewards," he says, "then we have a real chance of creating that sea change in the next 10 years and protecting the beauty that we still have."
For his 100th and final "Whaling Wall," 7,000 children from 110 countries joined him in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
They painted aquatic art on canvas panels stretching nearly a kilometer through a city park. "You couldn't put into words how much it meant to me to pass my art and knowledge and inspiration on to the next generation," he says.
Looking to the future
Wyland brought some of that art home to display to passersby on the National Mall in Washington, where he had come recently to paint with area school children.
Out on her lunch break, Cynthia McArthur says the murals give her hope for the future.
"I think that it helps reawaken those of us who are used to 'business as usual' to see in such a creative and energetic way how valuable oceans are and the creatures there," she says.
Wyland's financial success from paintings, prints, sculptures and a market of marine-inspired products led him to create the Wyland Foundation to support education and conservation projects.
And he continues to explore the undersea world. He loves to swim with whales and dolphins, and he never tires of the ocean as the subject of his art.
His latest long-term commitment to public art: the installation of 100 life-size marine sculptures in cities around the world.