It was my first experience painting with dolphins. Given my monumental lack of artistic talent, it’s a good thing Lightning had the brush placement and design under control when we created our painting I’m calling “Sunlit Water Lilies,” an homage to Monet though the eyes of a dolphin. Either that or “Bellagio Fountains Through the Eyes of the Inebriated.”
I was at the Mirage in Las Vegas, at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a quiet respite tucked away in the back of the huge resort, far from the cacophony and crowds of the casino.
After a brief training period during which I was told to hang tight to the canvas and was able to select the background and colors for my masterpiece, I was led to the water where I was joined by a trainer and introduced to Lightning. At 36, he has lived far beyond the life span of dolphins housed in a member facility of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. He seemed happy to see me and eager to begin our painting session.
I kneeled down beside him, and following the trainer’s instructions, held the canvas firmly as the trainer loaded up the buoy-turned-paintbrush and set it inside Lightning’s mouth. After a few strokes, the trainer gave us both the signal to stop. I would take a moment to look at the painting and determine whether to switch colors or to continue. After I deemed our painting complete, I was given some fish to feed Lightning for his efforts.
We engaged in some post-creation bonding, with the trainer showing me hand motions to signal Lightning to swim, jump out of the water, dance and wave his tail. After a double handshake and a kiss, we said good-bye.
Several dolphins participate in the painting activity, which started in late 2012. They were first trained to hold the buoys that are attached to paintbrushes to prevent swallowing. They were then taught to target the canvas, and move their heads in response to signals from a trainer. But from there, they each developed their own artistic style. Trainers also work with them to create paintings, which can be purchased in the gift shop.
The only thing my painting is missing is Lightning’s signature at the bottom. But I suppose I can add that myself.
Click here to see a video of the experience.