Posts Tagged ‘dolphins’

The Post – New Evidence of Dolphin Intelligence

January 14, 2011

It’s not dolphins blowing bubble rings….though frankly I can’t blow bubble rings so I consider that talent above me and respect any dolphin or human who can do it.

But ANYWAY, several news outlets carried an article about Tanner, a dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, who was featured for his ability to be blindfolded and still mimic what a fellow dolphin was doing.  CNN video of Tanner

I am not familiar with the place doing this study, but I located both a Facebook page for it, as well as their URL and some info on their mission:

Official Facebook Page – Dolphin Research Center

Some mission and history information from the web Page of the  Dolphin Research Center:

“DRC evolved out of the Institute for Delphinid Research. When DRC’s founders took over the facility in 1984, research remained a high priority. We have since expanded our in-house research goals, and also worked with world-renowned scientists who have come to DRC to study our resident colony of dolphins. General areas of interest include marine mammal cognition, behavior, and husbandry…….

In addition to maintaining the best possible environment for the dolphins and sea lions at the Center, we also dedicate ourselves to assisting marine mammals in distress in the surrounding waters of the Keys. For decades, DRC operated as the Southernmost member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We rescued and rehabilitated whales and dolphins, providing expert medical attention to help ease the way for our marine friends from the wild. The rescue and rehabilitation procedures provided us with invaluable opportunities for critical research and data collection. DRC extended its rescue commitment to include the endangered manatee and is currently the only facility in the Florida Keys licensed by the Federal Government to assist manatees in distress.

To reach as many people as possible, the Center provides a variety of educational programs that allow the public a chance to learn firsthand about the world of the dolphin.”

I noticed that this facility rescues dolphins that are stranded, helps rehabilitate them, and takes in dolphins rescued from animal shows, or other facilities. So I considered them to be an ethical place. They also have expanded their rescue work to sea lions and the endangered manatees. So all in all they seem like a pretty good place.

Their site also notes that the public can make reservations to get in the water with dolphins, etc….some of the things questioned recently by dolphin researchers as to whether that is appropriate or not. It seems to cross a line from research to human entertainment. I didn’t have a problem with humans signing up to participate in part of their regular routines and care, but I have to admit, I felt like maybe having dolphins provide a “photo-op” for us might be using them a bit.

I have no proof as I’ve never been there and haven’t talked to anyone there. So it may be that the dolphins enjoy us and maybe we provide them with entertainment. This is one of those gray areas where maybe these programs will spawn future marine scientists. Yet I hope the rights of the marine mammals are kept front and center.

In any event, check out the sites. At the main page for the research center you can read a bio on all their creatures and even “adopt” one to help out with the cost of its care.


The Post – Dolphins: What canvas, What image?

January 10, 2011

Okay. So the easy part is over. I know I want to do a painting of dolphins, to capture their beauty, fluidity, personality, intelligence. Now we come to the hard part – how to execute that?

I will say that the short answer is – it comes down to gut feeling about composition and canvas size and shape. And that nothing is cast in concrete. One can get halfway through the painting only to realize you need to turn the painting 90degrees and start again, or paint over the whole thing and get a new composition. However – I do try to narrow some things down then follow my gut. Probably the best I can hope for is to answer three first questions , then identify what other questions need answering as I go through this process.

The first three questions are-

1) what size of canvas?

2) what orientation (vertical or horizontal)

2) what composition?

The size and orientation are determined by the composition, though composition is  determined by the size and orientation of the canvas. To get to the final choice, at least for me, it is a  working back and forth, see-sawing between all three until the choices are narrowed down to a decision.

I start by going to Google images and just printing some pics of dolphins that “spoke” to me to get an idea of what compositions might work and what they even look like.

Some were “vertical” in orientation, some horizontal. Most had at least a couple dolphins, some had several. All had the “underside of the surface waves” at the top of the picture. So I have a “vague” idea of my own composition –

In thinking about my “vision” I know I want the top of the painting to show that we’re just under the water’s surface – so the top of the painting has to have that quality of “seeing the underside of surface waves.”

Also, at this point my gut tells me “simple vs. cluttered,” so I’ll keep the number of dolphins low. One solitary dolphin feels wrong as they’re social creatures, so I think I’ll keep the composition to two or three at most.

At least one dolphin has to to give us that “look it in the eye” connection, so they all can’t just be a “far away view.”

In looking at the pics I see I could do horizontal dolphins in a horizontal canvas, and it has potential. I can also do vertical ones in a horizontal canvas. However that means dolphins far away. Vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas feels better than on a horizontal one. You can get closer to them. So which is it? horizontal dolphins on horizontal canvas, or vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas?

And of course, my gut pipes up with – you could do something odd like a vertical canvas with an angled down but mostly horizontal dolpin or…..ARGGGHHH! 🙂

Let’s take a break and consider what size canvas.

Re the canvas size:

Let’s face it. This painting could go from 2×4″ to 4’x8′ or a wall fresco. But I work in more intermediate size ranges and avoid the extremes.

My favorite size often is 8×16, which is an odd size but I like it. It’s usually just big enough to capture creatures or seascapes and I just “like” that shape.

But I think that will be too small for what I have in mind here. So we’ll go for a size a little bit bigger.

My other frequent choices are: 18×24″, 16×20″ or 12×24″. So I think one of these will be my choice. Let’s leave size for a minute then and hop over to orientation.

Re: orientation” for the canvas used: Will I paint it with a “vertical” approach, meaning taller than wide? Or will I paint it “horizontally” meaning wide with a narrow height?

If I go tall and narrow width, that means I’m showing many layers of water and I’m probably going to have to paint smaller dolphins….unless I have several in the background and one more forward, diving deep and straight down so I could make the full length of the dolphin apparent. Overall, it’s more of a “long shot of the whole area” with a focus on one dolphin. It could work as a way to show the personality of one closeup. Also, a dolphin is long and narrow, so I could use a vertical oriented canvas and have a diving dolphin to show that.  But I’m not sure.

If I go long on the horizontal and shorter on height this means I’m painting a narrower slice of water. Thus any dolphins shown will be larger and more the focus of the painting for sure. However, then the focus instead of being on one dolphin, becomes all of the dolphins  as they’ll be about equal in size and close in proximity. And keeping with the long and narrow on the dolphin shape, a horizontal canvas means no diving dolphins – they would have to be horizontal as well to get across that whole “long and narrow” feeling.

Okay, so I haven’t yet identified “which canvas and orientation” but I HAVE listed some pros and cons of each. And in reality, the canvas shape is really a choice between two. The 16×20 and 18×24 are almost identical in ratio, just for a little bit more size on each dimension on the 18×24,whereas the 12 x 24 has a much longer vs narrow feel to it.  So the decision really comes down to 12×24 or one of those two.

In the hopes of clearing up the confusion, maybe it’s time to go back to composition.

To recap – most likely, vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas, or horizontal ones on a horizontal canvas. With the surface showing above. With two or three dolphins. And a canvas either 12×24 or one of the other two.

I sense that I want a focus on one dolphin with the others possibly in the background. And to have a full-size dolphin horizontal feels boring. More drama in having one of three “plunging” down to the deep sea. Action. Not just being.

What to do right now?

Feel. Stare. Digest. Incubate.


Stay tuned for ….decisions. At least “best guesses”  🙂

The Post – Dolphins: Artist Approach Step 1- Soul

January 9, 2011

I am not a marine scientist so I cannot weigh in on the scientific merits of the free vs. captive dolphin debate. However, I am an artist and there, I can serve the marine mammals. If seeing them in captivity is supposed to forge an emotional connection, then maybe seeing them lovely portrayed in a painting can do the same.

I also have a friend who expressed an interest in having a painting of a fish underwater. I think the original will have to be hers, but the prints will become my gift to the world and to dolphins in particular.

This morning, on a quest to see how I might approach this endeavor, I spent some quality time on Google images. Did a search on the term “dolphins underwater” and went to the “images” heading. There I found many photos to inspire me. I never actually copy a photo, but I do glean a “feeling” of the animal, it’s emotions, how it holds itself in the water, its soul.

But it’s not just the animal I need to “feel” but it’s environment. I need to “feel the fluidity, denseness, and motion” of the water around it along with how the light cuts through the layers of liquid. I need to feel the “temperature” of the environment – cold Arctic waters or warm Caribbean. And is it clear or cloudy with plankton, debris, dirt.

I often print out a few key pictures and just stare at them. Soak up their soul, shapes, colors….until I’ve internalized the animal and its space.

Next will be “Step 2 – Composition”  Stay tuned.


The Post – Dolphins: An Ethical Problem

January 8, 2011

Has anyone ever thought about dolphins in amusement parks / aquariums and wondered if they were happy?  I have to admit I never thought about it much. I figured if they were kept humanely, fed well, kept active and busy, that was good. But maybe that’s not the case.

I came across this article in the Times from January 2010 that said:

“Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”……The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.”

This gave me pause, especially since for 10 years I worked on an ethics board protecting human beings in clinical research studies. I am supposed to think outside the box to make sure all are treated ethically. So I dug further into the topic of dolphin ethics and found a bit more.

An article by Kris Stewart on the Ethos website, states:

“The ways that dolphins are captured, transported, and kept for research, display and/or entertainment raises many ethical concerns. Family groups are broken up when one or more dolphins are taken from their home waters in traumatic takings, and the effects of changing the social structure of the wild population once those individuals are removed from the community are unknown. Many captive dolphins display physiological and behavioral indicators of stress such as elevated adrenocortical hormones, stereotyped behavior, self-destruction, self-mutilation, and excessive aggressiveness towards humans and other dolphins. To be sure, captive dolphin facilities vary around the world, but even if Panama provided the very best in captive dolphin care and management, the decision to keep healthy dolphins in human care at all disregards their moral value. Captivity denies dolphins their psychological, physical, and social integrity, inflicts untold kinds and amounts of stress, and drastically alters the fundamental life experience of being a dolphin.”

I looked into the Times article further and found this on one of the researchers quoted in the article:

Emory University neuroscientist Lori Marino, states that: “Dolphins are sophisticated, self-aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma,” …The growing industry of capturing and confining dolphins to perform in marine parks or to swim with tourists at resorts needs to be reconsidered, she says.”

Marino presented these findings along with another researcher, Dr. Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (AAAS) in San Diego, on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010. Click the following two links to read an article about Dr. Marino’s presentation, and to hear her speak on video about this topic: her article and a video of an interview with her

Dr. Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and a fellow at the Oxford Centre For Animal Ethics, apparently also spoke at this conference. An excerpt of his speech: click here

Giving a response to these topics was Dr. Jerry Schubel, Director of the Aquarium of the Pacific. At the website, Physics Buzz, there was an entry by the blogger, Alaina G. Levine, Much Ado about Dolphins, even if they don’t wear physics t-shirts, that contained some of his comments. She also gave a somewhat critical discussion on whether this effort is going too far. Her summation of Dr. Schubel’s comments though, shows a man who is not the anti-Christ in this, isn’t trying to harm dolphins and actually has some good criteria for when dolphins might be ethically served by being in captivity:

“However, Jerry Schubel, President and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, who served as the “Discussant” for the session on dolphins, had some fascinating comments on the matter.

He agreed wholeheartedly that ethics should prevent us from having dolphin hunts (called drives, these are brutally shown in the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Cove). But he posited that there might be ethical scenarios that would support captivity. If a dolphin was born in captivity, or had been rescued and needed rehabilitation, Schubel argued, then detention would be an acceptable situation. Furthermore, if a dolphin was chronically ill and release would surely lead to death, then again captivity would be ok.

But Schubel was quick to point out that any dolphin captivity must come with “the right conditions, and…have the right conditions to enable it to connect with humans,” such as at aquariums, he said.

“Aquariums have a powerful role to play if we view our collections of these animals as ambassadors to the wild…,” he declared. Aquariums that have dolphins have a wonderful opportunity to affect policies to prevent slaughters, and …to raise the bar to try to get [people] to agree on how to keep these animals in captivity.” He joked that the fish in his aquarium have much better health insurance than he does.

Schubel went on to say “when families watch these animals perform, they are emotionally connected [with the dolphins].”

The blogger noted, and I agree, that emotional connections can go either way. Dr. Schubel’s  comments appeared a week before a staffer was killed by an orca, in a Florida aquarium. I suspect that shifted public emotions too, but possibly not in a good way. So depending on public emotions to prove a point can be a variable thing.

A report on that conference (click here) revealed that although the various researchers disagree on what is the best thing for dolphins, there was a lack of polarized or extremist attitudes in their discussion:

“There was a distinct lack of any animal-rightist stridency or blanket extremism among these experts. They disagreed as to whether holding dolphins and their relatives in any type of captivity was morally defensible. Dr. Marino argued that even the best captive conditions offer an environment one ten-thousandth of a percent (that’s 0.000001) the size of their native habitat.

Dr. Riess and other discussants – in particular, Dr. Jerry Schubel of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA – countered that limited and extremely sensitive keeping of the animals not only allows us to learn more about their biology but also to engage people of all ages in caring about their survival.”

In fact, a number of the researchers, regardless of the side they are on, wrote jacket text for a book by Thomas I White: In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier.
At this stage it seems that this is an exploration of the topic, a learned discussion of pros and cons, with an eye toward making sure these beautiful brilliant creatures are recognized as highly intelligent sentient beings and treated properly. However even though I lean toward the side of not having them in captivity, especially just for entertainment purposes, the criteria Dr. Schubel gave for situations to have them in captivity, seem reasonable to me. As in many arguments of ethics, there is often some “black-and-white” and a LOT of gray.