Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Sea Otter Awareness Week 2013

It’s that time of year again! Sea Otter Awareness Week 2013 is almost over, but it’s never too late to celebrate the hairiest of all mammals. Last year I shared the colouring sheet I created for Georgia Aquarium’s SOAW, but this year’s event saw me collaborating with a good friend who just happens to be crazy about sea otters. She created a very cute little narrative for me to illustrate that would cover some of the milestones in the first year of sea otter’s life – a “Watch Me Grow” pup journal to be given out for free. It was a lot of fun to work on! The journals double as colouring books and allow kids to name “their” sea otter and learn what it’s like to grow up in the chilly waters of the west coast. These were handed out on the first day of SOAW on Sunday 22nd and will also be available tomorrow (Saturday 28th), so if you’re in the area and want to pick one up – as well as have a LOT of sea otter-related fun with activities and storytelling – you should stop by! If you’re nowhere near Atlanta, check out the list of participating organisations and see if you can pop in to your local aquarium or zoo. You won’t find my artwork, but you WILL find a lot of enthusiastic, dedicated people who would love to talk to you about sea otters and other wonderful animals!

I believe that after this week, the journal will be available to download from Georgia Aquarium’s SOAW page. I’ll let you know!

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On Patrol

On Patrol

I would be lying if I told you that this painting hadn’t haunted me. Not in the sense that gangs of bottlenose dolphins were chasing me in my nightmares (honestly a rather terrifying scenario), but because I actually started this about three years ago. And then I didn’t like it, so I painted over it and tried again. Then I tried again. Then I put it aside for a few months. And then picked it up again, painted over it, and tried again… you get the idea. Eventually it became my nemesis; when I would work on something else it would be there in the corner of the room, staring at me. I had to defeat it.

Attempt number... something.

Attempt number… something.

Bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to have the most interesting physical characteristics at first glance; certainly not as striking as orcas (sorry, I’m biased) or other members of their oceanic dolphin family (Pacific white-sided and hourglass dolphins spring to mind), but I’ve always been fond of those odd little lines on their melon and the subtle countershading. And it’s not like the general public doesn’t go crazy over the bottlenose – the species is synonymous with the very word “dolphin”. (Seriously, take a look… how many non-bottlenose can you see?) Because of the world’s unwavering fascination with them – whether it’s because of their intelligence or magical sparkly moon powers – bottlenose dolphins often get waved off as being overrated. While I’ll be among the first to admit that they’re not my favourite marine species ever ever ever, it’s important to recognise that animals like bottlenose dolphins can be key to effective conservation efforts.

Contaminants like PCBs and DDT are really good at accumulating in animal fats. What are marine mammals like dolphins completely covered in? Oh, yeah – blubber. This means that as these apex predators eat things and be generally good at what they’ve evolved to do, pollutants that originate in everyday things we use like pesticides and fertilisers actually build up in their bodies (a process known as bioaccumulation). And how do these pollutants end up in the dolphins’ food, exactly? Through runoff and industrial waste that gets pumped into marine ecosystems, which begin to  turn up in organisms on the lower levels of the food chain as well as cause cause harmful algae blooms. Florida’s troubled Indian River Lagoon is a prime example of this, and its dolphins are part of an important collaborative research project – Health and Environmental Risk Assessments (HERA) – that looks at their health status. The dolphins are sentinels: their health, or lack of, tells us what’s going on. The results can then be used for action.

So why is it that I said dolphins can be key? Well, people love them. And if people love dolphins and want to help them have a healthy environment to live in, a lot more than just dolphins can reap the benefits (we like a healthy environment too, don’t we?). In the end, it’s good that these animals are popular – we just need a little less of the supernatural and a lot more of the educational.


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Whale Shark Weekend

Did you know that the 30th of August was International Whale Shark Day? Declared in 2008 during the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference (hey, I’ve heard of that!), it’s a good date for all things Rhincodon typus. This year, Georgia Aquarium hosted Whale Shark Weekend on August 30th and 31st to bring some special attention to the world’s largest fish through activities, presentations, lectures and even the premiere of Guy Harvey’s new film Whale Sharks of the Yucatan. It was exactly the kind of event I would have loved to have been present for… but I was unfortunately busy elsewhere in Atlanta and not appropriately dressed. But I got involved another way: I helped create the activities!

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed "Bubba") served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed “Bubba”) served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

One of my favourite things about whale sharks is the uniqueness of their markings: each individual has a spot pattern that is unlike that of any other, making photo identification an effective way to study them. As this research is something the aquarium is extensively involved in, I thought it would be fun to get kids to create their very own whale shark with a unique pattern of spots. I made a complete version with markings and one without, and was chuffed to see that both were put to some fun use! The “naked” version was blown up onto a big board so that guests could actually use their thumbs to apply dots of white paint, making it a nice collaborative effort. The complete version was given a background and made into a cute little jigsaw puzzle for them to colour and fit together. Though I wasn’t able to be at the event, I was so happy to see the photos and know that I did my own little part to get kids engaged with one of the coolest animals on the planet!

Photos from Georgia Aquarium’s Whale Shark Weekend gallery on Facebook