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Jett: A Dolphin Artist
Profile And Background
Jett is a twelve year old, sub-adult, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (tursiops truncatus) who lives 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.
A Unique Brush Technique
My niece, Alicia, who trains and works with Jett, gave me one of his paintings for Christmas this year. I was intrigued and enthralled with the painting as she shared how Jett uses a brush to paint. The photos at right show the process and how he uses a custom made apparatus to create brush strokes on canvas. The 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. He really gets into his paintings and attacks the board with excited vigor that shows in his art work. This activity stimulates him through the interaction with his trainer and the praise received in his work. Alicia says that after several strokes he gets so excited that he will take off around the pool for a victory lap as indicated by the picture below without him in it.
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. Jett did a few brush strokes on canvas for him and Wyland completed the picture to create a beautiful painting.
How Jett Spends 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. He 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, 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.
Earlier I mentioned that Jett chomps on ice and the reason for this is quite interesting. As explained by Alicia, ice is not a part of his diet but 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.
Another interesting fact about Jett is how he sleeps. 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.
The Final Masterpiece
In the photos above, this is actually Jett painting the picture I received at Christmas. My personal observation of his artwork is that Jett is simple but expressive with his brush technique. I can see how he used the brush to make firm and wispy strokes to create a masterpiece. If you look closely you can see a dolphin in the picture. I believe he was doing a self-portrait.
I plan to visit Jett this summer and look forward to spending some time with him. I will post another hub covering this trip to update his exciting story. After All, it is not every day that you meet a dolphin artist.
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