Monday, February 27, 2012

With Flipper & Brush: Oregon Coast Aquarium's Sea Lion Artists

Ken Lytwyn, Curator of Marine Mammals at the 
Oregon Coast Aquarium, with Max. Photo provided
by the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
In Episode 18, I launch into a multi-part series on art-making by animals in captivity and art-making by our pets.

In this episode, we hear from Ken Lytwyn, Curator of Marine Mammals at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. The conversation centers on the facility’s resident sea lions – Lea, Max and Quill – who spend some of their enrichment activity time engaged in painting canvases and creating flipper prints. 

Lea with one of her flipper prints. Photo provided by
the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Ken describes their distinctive temperaments and talents and details what made Lea, Max and Quill good candidates for art-making. We hear how the three were trained to paint with flipper and brush and how they are rewarded for their efforts. We explore what we can know or - perhaps at best - surmise about sea lions from their art-making.

Max at work with paint brush and canvas.
Photo provided by the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Questions for Ken: Do sea lions attach any meaning to their artwork? How do sea lions see? Do they appreciate beauty? Do they have fun when they engage in these activities? How do sea lions learn and can we relate their learning processes to the ways in which human beings learn? Are they visual learners? Auditory learners? Tactile learners? Could a sea lion teach another sea lion to paint?

Max and Lea are featured in the full-color coffee table book, Fur in My Paint, that depicts wild animals - from scorpions to beaded lizards, macaws to elephants, and sea lions to gorillas - all creating art. In Part 2 of this series, we'll be chatting with the book's author, Tifane Grayce. Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and host of TV's Into the Wild, has called this art-making "a brilliant activity for any animal in an animal park or conservation center. Painting stimulates the animals and acts as an important 'enrichment' activity. Not only do the animals produce some really nice art, but it's valuable for conservation fund-raising."

The Oregon Coast Aquarium opened in 1992 and is situated on a beautiful 39-acre site on Yaquina Bay adjacent to an estuary and opposite a historic bay front with a working harbor. The aquarium is home to some 15,000 creatures (250 species) and is consistently rated among the nation’s best. It has received praise from USA Today, Coastal Living, Parents Magazine, Forbes Traveler and Trailer Life. The facility welcomes about 460,000 visitors annually and is open every day save for Dec. 25. Summer (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day) hours are: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15.45 for adults aged 18-64; seniors (65+), $13.45; young adults (13-17), $12.75; children (3-12), $9.95 and age 2 and younger, free.

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