Ambergris Ink mural by Ruben Ubiera

A life-size decomposing beached whale. Vultures feed on it while flowers arise from the rotting carcass. A weird mural that recently appeared in the Grove street Neighborhood provoked conversations. Some people ask, “Who in their right mind would paint a decomposing animal being eaten by vultures on the side of a building?” and name it disgusting. Others admire of the idea, technique, and the purpose to picture the reality. Street art has always been a powerful platform to convey messages and encourage people to ask questions. I interviewed some people that live and work in the neighborhood to learn their opinion.

I think that the street art in the Grove Street Neighborhood has provided our community with unique perspectives in the form of a unique art medium. Street art is beautiful, to me, as is any other art form because of the connection it makes between the artist and the viewer.
The whale mural, in particular, is my favorite mural because of that- the connection the artists made with the community as they prepped and painted this art piece. I had the privilege to speak with the artists, as did several neighbors who walked by throughout the creation of the mural and was blown away by their passion about ocean conservation initiatives. The whale mural provides our neighborhood the opportunity to create a dialog about these pressing social issues and for that, I am very grateful. – Stephanie Norman. Teacher.


I’m enjoying the obvious interest and conversation and pride that the murals have brought. I’m hoping that they stimulate more interest and possible business growth in Grove Street Neighborhood.
It was pretty obvious that the mural dealt with the environment and the need to protect our seas. The site needs to be a focus – students of all ages should be exposed to it and conversations/ discourse/lectures built around it. UF environmental classes should be involved as should the Florida Museum of Natural History. The mural makes a strong statement and often strong statements bring controversy. I understand the supporting organization for this mural wants to generate awareness and stimulate dialogue. Bringing in experts with a voice may well help with perception. Just wish they had been brought in earlier as it might have softened opposition. – Judy Skinner. Owner Pofahl Studios in Grove Street Neighborhood. Director of Grants/Arts Education Dance Alive National Ballet. Choreographer DANB.

Ruben Ubiera (1)

The murals that have gone up around town have been a wonderful addition to our community. Promoting the arts and social consciousness.  Grove Street Neighborhood, in particular, has had the good fortune of sponsoring many murals each one with their own distinct message and beauty. I work in the shop across from the large mural of the whale.  The message is a sobering one about the health of our oceans and the animals that live in them. Death is as much a part of life as living and the mural depicts that. At the same time, however, there are giant yellow flowers and the use of a bright color scheme to represent a brighter future with new beginnings. The artist intended this mural to spark debate and remind us all how beautiful our oceans are and the life that resides in them. – Andrew Masseo. A craftsman who works in the Grove Street neighborhood. 

Ruben Ubiera (15)

I love street art!  Ever since I learned about the international work of artists doing great murals in other countries, I was greatly pleased by Gainesville’s efforts to make Street Art encouraged here.  I think downtown is a much better place for it, and I think the Grove Street Neighborhood Murals Project adds much-needed beauty to the often overlooked historic area.  It also starts a dialogue on my important social issues, which is always a good thing.
As an environmentalist, I like what the artist shows with the painting of the whale being ravaged by vultures.  To me, it represents the awful way businesses and countries treat our oceans, which are polluted with tons of plastics and threatened by immense overfishing.  Our oceans are dying, and I think this work really captures that immediate threat, and hopefully, generates interest and dialogue amongst people to do something to protect our precious oceans and other waterways before it is too late. – D.L., UF student.


In general, I love street art and building art, and applaud the new murals in the Grove St. area. I hadn’t seen this whale one yet in person, just in the e-mail. The first thing that jumped out at me was the electrical wires going into the wall and the electrical boxes within the whale’s body — there’s even a smart meter. Knowing the harm that smart meters do to living things, my first reaction was that it was a statement about how detrimental electromagnetic fields can be. I guess I’m in the minority with this view, because most people don’t realize how dangerous they are, but I’ve attended several conferences with speakers on this topic and read several books on EMFs. I also see the pink and turquoise “beams” coming at the whale, and I interpret these as Navy sonar that is also harming whales. In general, it’s great to get dialogs started about these — thanks for the contribution and your work! – Mostly retired English/Linguistics teacher who lives across Main St. to the east of the Grove St. neighborhood.
The mural is named Ambergris Ink. Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour, produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Ambergris can be worth thousands an ounce… The value of ambergris lies in its role in the fragrance industry. High-end perfumes from houses such as Chanel and Lanvin take advantage of the ability of ambergris to fix scent to human skin. From the 18th to the mid-19th century, the whaling industry prospered. By some reports, nearly 5,000 whales, including sperm whales, were killed each year. The possession and trade of ambergris are prohibited in the USA and Australia, however, still legal in United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, New Zealand.
Visually the whale is disturbing to me and I’ve heard much negative feedback.  The murals in Powells Plaza are universally loved and appreciated.  I understand the meaning and metaphor of new life from the ashes and remains of the old, but feel it doesn’t help me in my quest to transform this neighborhood.  When artists paint things relating to death it can turn people away from an area. My suggestions would be to keep transforming the mural and have artists paint additional things growing out of the carcass until eventually all you see is a few old bones.  I’m glad that the whale is not on one of my buildings.  – Gregory Stetz.

Ruben Ubiera (14)

I wanted to stop people on their tracks while making them aware of a problem that concerns us all: the oceans. Without them, there’s no life. The vultures represent the corporations and politicians feeding their pockets from the sea’s demise. The flowers: hope, growth, and possibility. Metallic colors were used on the sunflowers to add beauty, and reflect light, while the sun hits the wall the whole day.
This piece is all about awareness. Even if it’s done via shock. I like to paint murals that are unique to the space they’re in. When I saw the wall, the grass mound, the electrical boxes, its length, I immediately thought of a life-size whale. In the middle of Gainesville, Florida. Away from the ocean. A contrast from your every day. – Ruben Ubiera. The artist.

Ruben Ubiera’s mural attracted a lot of attention in the most relevant street art news around the world, such as Urbanite (London, UK), Graffiti street (London, UK), Street Art United States (Boston, USA), BSA (Brooklyn, USA), The Village Journal (Gainesville), The Gainesville Scene, and more…  Gainesville has become a part of an international movement in support of raising awareness about global ocean environmental issues among many different US cities and other countries.

Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans is a public art project that collaborates with some of today’s most renowned contemporary artists to create large-scale public murals that address pressing environmental issues the oceans are facing by forging a synthesis between public art, nature, and society.

Since 2014, on a volunteer basis, we’ve organized and curated our Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans program in 12 countries, collaborating with a growing network of over 250 artists, resulting in nearly 300 public murals in coastal communities around the world. We’ve built a world-class platform for artists to bring the oceans to the streets of communities large and small. Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas. Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village – the ocean supplies us with the breath we take. Life on planet Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans. Dwindling global fish stocks, rising sea levels, and widespread pollution are issues that impact everyone, regardless of location. As global citizens, we are responsible for the health of the oceans and the wildlife that calls it home.”- PangeaSeed Foundation founder and director, Tre’ Packard.

2 thoughts on “Ambergris Ink mural by Ruben Ubiera

  1. Don

    Street art and activism can educate the local and global community and bring awareness to pressing issues. In this mural the artist did not simply paint a whale happy in the ocean but a whale decomposed, limp and being attacked by vultures. This mural may shock some people but the artist is simply painting the truth about the current pollution in our oceans … and sometimes the truth hurts. However, this mural gives the whales and marine life a huge voice. One that we need to listen to and open our eyes to. Not wanting to see the truth and painting over the mural is ignorant to the suffering of our marine life. The local community should be proud of this mural! they are educating and creating much needed awareness to the world about the oceans growing environmental issues.

  2. Craig ONeil

    This movement isnt about painting pretty pictures on walls (even though this piece has a lot of visually pleasing elements). The greatest purpose of art is to make us think, to force us to question how things are and to consider how they could be. I love this piece, as I love all the pieces around the city, and I hope that people will consider for a moment, what Gainesville should be. Should it be full of easily digestible, forgettable, decorative pieces or should it be full of world class art? Saint Sebastian is depicted tied to a tree, body full of arrows, its a strong and powerful image, and its these strong and powerful images that take us outside ourselves and that we need to challenge us to be the best we can be.

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