Last spring, we went to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, United States.

We don't like places with captive animals, unless they're work is essential for the survival of life on the planet. We may visit some that are caring for rescued or injured animals until they can go back to the wild; and some that are providing life-long loving care for animals who can never be released. The facilities must be governed by organizations with strict rules. They must have a global conservation and education mission.

The Aquarium seemed to meet our criteria, until we came to an exhibit that disturbed us. They were selling "paintings" by animals, each with a profile of the "artist." The penguin made multiple colored footprints. A beluga whale made one with long brushstrokes. Apparently they hold the paintbrush in their mouth, but I'm not sure of the procedure.

We worry that the paint is toxic in the long run, even if doesn't seem to be at the moment. We worry that the whole activity is unnatural to the animal, might be frightening or otherwise disruptive, especially if they go back to the wild. Penguins do walk in their natural habitat, but they don't use paint and are not forced to walk on a piece of paper. I doubt whales do anything remotely related to putting a brush in their mouths and creating "art" in the ocean!

We had an uneasy feeling that the animals were just being used as entertainment without enough attention paid to their care. We expressed our concern about the the painting activity to an employee, who told us that creating this "art" is not only safe, but actually beneficial to the animals.

Is that a proven fact? If so, what are the benefits? Are there also dangers such as those I mentioned, or others?

Penguin footprints with picture of penguin Closer view of that penguin Beluga picture Closer profile of the whale

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    @ab2 The National Aviary has a similar program, costs are around $25 per painting but varies on size and animal doing the painting. Jan 5, 2019 at 10:05
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    @Charles E Grant I read the Question as asking about the two factors you mentioned: toxicity and coercion. Thus, I think your answer would definitely be useful, although possibly not 100% complete, and I would upvote it.
    – ab2
    Jan 5, 2019 at 17:06
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the great outdoors and is highly opinionated.
    – Martin F
    Jan 8, 2019 at 19:58
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    While I like this question I am NOT voting to re-open it as it violates this clause zoos as entertainment, even entertainment with a surface gloss of education, are not of the highest voted answer. I think it was a good test question and helps to solidify the points there. Jan 9, 2019 at 13:34

1 Answer 1


There are certainly folks who would say that the entire idea of keeping marine animals in captivity and on exhibit is bad for the animals. However, if you are willing to accept keeping them in captivity, then providing them with enrichment activities is probably good for their mental health. Admittedly, painting is not a natural activity, but it probably beats swimming laps around a concrete tank 16 hours a day.

For the penguins at least, the "painting" consists of dipping their feet in non-toxic finger paint and then letting them walk across a piece of paper. Not much training and no coercion involved. I suspect it's just a fund raising gimmick, but then keeping whales and penguins fed and provided with salt water isn't cheap


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