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Jett: A Dolphin Artist

Updated on April 13, 2019
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Dianna is a writer with a background in education and business. She writes to inspire and encourage others.

Jett loves to pose and gives a big smile for pictures. He is such a handsome fellow!
Jett loves to pose and gives a big smile for pictures. He is such a handsome fellow! | Source

Upon first approach, Jett lets out a series of trills while swimming to the pool's edge to greet visitors. He is quite excited to see people, mostly because he knows there may be a treat or two in store. His silvery skin shimmers under the bright lights above making him seem almost translucent against the blue of the water.

I am thrilled to see him. I have looked forward to this day since receiving his artwork last Christmas. I laugh as he dances backwards in the water and chatters excitedly, as if inviting me to join him for a swim. His trainer, my niece Alicia, throws him a small fish treat and whistles to bring him back to the edge. She asks, "Do you want to give him a hug?" Would I? I can't think of a better way to thank Jett for my painting.

Profile And Background

He seems big but Jett is only a twelve year old, sub-adult, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (tursiops truncatus) living at the Indianapolis Zoo. His mother is Ripley and his father, now deceased, is Sundance. He weighs about 194 kg (427 pounds) and has a scar behind his blowhole as a distinguishing mark. He was born on February 2, 2000 on Groundhog's Day. Some of his favorite pastimes include playing with toys, chomping on ice, chasing the girls around and trying to be dominant within the pod.

Concerning the ice, as explained by Alicia, it is considered a play item. He seems to enjoy the temperature, texture and shape in his mouth. This is similar to the sensory activity enjoyed by young infants and toddlers as they learn to eat a variety of foods.

Did you know certain types of dolphins can be seen swimming in rivers? However, they are on the verge of extinction. If you spot one, watch without disturbing!

Jett & Friend: Talented Performers!

A Unique Brush Technique

As I mentioned earlier, I own one of Jett's creative paintings. My personal observation of his artwork is that he uses simple strokes, yet quite an expressive brush technique. I can see how he used the brush to make firm and wispy strokes to create a work of art. If you look closely (photo posted at the end), you can almost see what looks like a dolphin in the center. Do you think he was making a self-portrait?

I was intrigued and enthralled with his artwork as Alicia shared how Jett uses a brush to paint. A small paintbrush is attached to a ring that fits around his rostrum. Alicia dips the brush in the paint for him and then attaches it to the ring. You can see how patiently he waits while she prepares the canvas and tools for his use.

Jet really gets into his paintings and attacks the board with excited vigor that shows in creativity. This activity stimulates him through the interaction with his trainer and the praise received in his work. Alicia says that after several strokes he becomes so excited that he will take off around the pool for a victory lap.

Once the world renown artist, Wyland, visited the Indianapolis Zoo to observe the marine exhibit. He stopped by to visit the dolphins and saw firsthand the talented works of Jett, who did a few brush strokes on canvas for him. Wyland completed the picture to create a beautiful masterpiece.

Jett being fitted with his painting ring.
Jett being fitted with his painting ring.
Patiently, so patiently awaiting his appartus.
Patiently, so patiently awaiting his appartus.
Here he is working on his brush strokes.
Here he is working on his brush strokes.
Alicia waits while Jett takes off on a victory lap!
Alicia waits while Jett takes off on a victory lap!

Every Fish Has His Day!

Just like the other dolphins in the pod, Jett eats a good amount of herring and caplein in his diet. Although he has a lot of sharp cone-shaped teeth, he uses them for grabbing and not to chew his food. He swallows his food whole. Dolphins in general can't drink the saltwater they live in and have to resort to getting their water source through the fish they eat.

Playing with toys is a big part of his day and he has tons of them to stimulate his interest. Because dolphins are such intelligent and curious animals, they need a good deal of stimulation through play. A fun play treat given to Jett while we watched his water antics was jello. The tasty cubes of gelatin provide oral exercise for the jaws. Each dolphin receives supervised play where a trainer must be present for safety reasons and unsupervised play time so that a trainer can observe behavior.

Jett in particular, loves balls: basketballs, footballs, beach balls; let's just say he likes about anything in a ball form. When he plays with balls it requires supervision because they may pop and pose a safety hazard to him. Each night his toys are rotated and consist of anything from buoys to giant hoops for him to swim through. He even gets to play with Little Tykes toy pieces because they provide a rare enrichment activity.

Another interesting fact about these aquatic creatures, Jett being no exception, is how they sleep. Dolphins are able to turn half of their brain off while the other half remains awake or active. The awake half will tell them to go to the surface for air and it also alerts them to predators. Once the sleeping half is completely rejuvenated the active half will rest. I find this a fascinating feature and one that I could use myself at times!

I should add on that Jett has excellent vision both above and below the water and keeps an watchful eye on his surroundings. In fact, when he sees a trainer approach he vocalizes their presence. Believe it or not, he can tell the difference between a trainer and a veterinarian because he will use a specific vocal sound to announce their entrance.

Summary of Our Experience


© 2012 Dianna Mendez


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