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Townsend’s Unique Painting Technique

March 14, 2021

Townsend’s Unique Painting Technique

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Stephanie Graehling Stephanie Graehling

A really creative behavior we can train our animals to do at WCSs New York Aquarium is painting. Some of our sea lions, seals, cownose rays, and penguins all paint as a form of enrichment.

Most of our animals that paint do so by holding a special paintbrush which they move on a canvas. Townsend, a 6-year-old California sea lion, Zalophus californianus, has his own unique way – he paints by blowing through his mouth.

Townsend learned a breath behavior where he exhales almost as if he were blowing out candles on a cake. Utilizing this behavior, trainers place dots of water color on a canvas, then ask Townsend to blow, and he spreads the paint across the canvas to create his very own special masterpiece. He can also blow a whistle.

Townsend finds this behavior very reinforcing. It is clearly as fun for him as it is for our aquarium trainers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March.

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