Stella is coming to Jacksonville in time for the fourth annual Right Whale Festival on Saturday at the Jacksonville Beach SeaWalk Pavilion.
As real North Atlantic right whales swim down the southeast coast for calving season, a near life-size illustration of Stella will finish a northbound overland trip that started Oct. 14 in Key Largo.
Stella is a baby right whale painted by muralist Wyland, who only goes by one name, and South Florida school children. Part of the Wyland Foundation's initiative is to protect the world's marine life and draw attention to the endangered mammal.
Foundation Executive Director Steve Creech said the educational tour around Stella's migration is a story "an entire state can get behind and build a movement."
Stella's journey north from South Florida mimics the real animals' ocean voyage to get children interested in the endangered creature's future, said Sea to Shore Alliance biologist and festival organizer Jessica Koelsch.
"Most folks don't know they are found off Florida in the winter," Koelsch said. "The mission of the festival is to celebrate the start of the right whale calving season and get kids excited about them and aware that they are out there."
Right whales migrate south in early winter to birth and raise calves in Florida and Georgia's warm coastal waters before returning to their feeding grounds by April. Their numbers have dwindled to less than 400 after being hit by cargo ships or entangled in fishing gear as they migrate.
Stella was "born" when Wyland and children created a 4,000-square-foot mural in early May in Miami Beach. She is surrounded by a myriad of brightly colored sea creatures.
"Now it's the right whale to save," Wyland tells the children in a video of the painting project. "It's a super-cool whale. Look at that smile."
A smaller version of the mural embarked on a 700-mile trip through Florida, stopping every 20 to 30 miles at schools so students could hear from educators, nutritionists and marine mammal experts about the whales.
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