Art-Sea: Dolphins That Help Wounded Vets Learn to Paint

Art is for everyone — even dolphins.

Dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center have had restricted access to visitors, given the coronavirus pandemic. But after instruction by staff, they got to practice an activity much prized by humans: painting.

The Dolphin Research Center was founded in the Florida Keys in 1984.


It is a nonprofit marine mammal education and research facility currently home to a family of bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.

The organization’s communications director, Mary Stella, said the painting project was just one of many the center did with dolphins to keep them amused.

One of the dolphins most meaningful activities is the Wounded Warrior Project, which connects war veterans with dolphins to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD. Soldiers coping with life-altering injuries get a chance to experience calm and self-empowerment swimming with these beautiful creatures.

The project was such a success that while the pandemic stopped the physical visits, veterans continued to connect with the dolphins via Zoom.

Dolphin therapy has been used to treat PTSD in both children and adults.

With fewer visitors, the dolphins have ample time to learn to paint at the research center. The center does not encourage the dolphins to learn tricks to amuse the public. Rather, it tries to interact with them and present painting as a new experience to enjoy.

Bottlenose dolphins are found around the world, including along the East and West Coasts of the U.S. and in the Gulf of Mexico. They can live as long as 60 years. An average dolphin is about 13 feet long, weighs 660 pounds and lives and hunts in a group.

Bottlenose dolphins are widely regarded as intelligent and can mimic each other and humans. These sleek creatures have a wide variety of communication forms and use tools.

(Edited by Fern Siegel and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

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