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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sea lion artists making a mark

Jen DeGroot, a marine mammalogist, holds up a flipper print that the sea lion Lea made at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Ore.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jen DeGroot, a marine mammalogist, holds up a flipper print that the sea lion Lea made at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Ore. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Lori Tobias (Portland) Oregonian

NEWPORT, Ore. – When marine mammalogist Jen DeGroot decided to teach Lea, a sea lion, to make flipper art, she was merely looking for ways to keep the Oregon Coast Aquarium resident from getting bored.

She never imagined Lea would develop her own following. But that’s exactly what happened when fellow workers at the aquarium learned of the work and began requesting their own custom prints. Before long, DeGroot and her colleagues were having trouble keeping up with the demand.

Now Lea and a second sea lion named Max are earning wide recognition as featured artists in “Fur in My Paint,” a book by Tifane Grayce on animals and their art.

“To this day, I think we are the only people who have trained a sea lion to do a flipper print,” DeGroot said. “Each sea lion flipper has distinctive markings just like a human fingerprint and it’s really neat to see the detail in the print. It is pretty unique.”

The art is a hit in the gift shop, where a slide show lets visitors see Lea and Max at work. All proceeds go back to the aquarium.

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