When you put a paintbrush in a dolphin's mouth and hold a canvas in front of him, the dolphin's going to do whatever he wants to do.
That's the least surprising thing about "Painting with Dolphins" at The Mirage. It's a dolphin, after all.
But that's what makes each piece of art unique, says Erin Wise, lead dolphin trainer and occasional painter's assistant.
In November, the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage began offering guests the chance to collaborate artistically with five of the habitat's dolphins. Sessions are offered twice daily at noon and 3:30 p.m.
They're not making a splash in the local art scene, yet. But if the artwork of a Florida dolphin is any indication, they could. Nellie, the oldest dolphin in human care, has painted art that has fetched as much as $600, says Wise, who used to work with Nellie in Florida.
But chances are, if you plan to paint with a dolphin, you're not thinking of selling the art. The experience lets guests interact one-on-one with a dolphin and come away with a neat souvenir that doubles as a great conversation piece.
"A lot of people ask us why on earth we have dolphins paint," Wise says. "It's something for them to focus on."
The five dolphins - Maverick, Cosmo, Lightning, Osborn and Beatle - seem to enjoy the activity, too. Cosmo is the group's trickster, having been known to take off with the paintbrush once he has it.
The dolphins are still new to painting, Wise says. The more they do it, the smoother things will be.
It didn't take long to train the dolphins to paint, Wise says.
First, they were taught to hold a special dolphin-safe paintbrush in their mouths. This is simply a human paintbrush encased in a buoy that prevents the dolphins from swallowing it. Next, they were taught to target a canvas and given signals to make head movements.
Each dolphin does his own thing, Wise says. One might make a nodding motion while another moves his head in a circle.
The result is as abstract as an artist can get.
For $199 and a half-hour of your time, you can select as many as three colors for the dolphin to use. If you just want a painting and don't have time to collaborate with a dolphin, paintings are for sale ($25, $35 and $45) in the habitat's gift shop.
The paints are acrylic and approved for dolphin use by their veterinarian, Wise says. All materials are provided on site.
You can paint the background of the canvas or leave it blank. Once you select your colors, you are escorted poolside, where you kneel. A trainer dabs the brush in paint and places it in the dolphin's mouth. A trainer's signal tells the dolphin when to start painting and when to stop. You hold the canvas while the artist works.
Frozen raw fish is their reward. Yours? Well, you get to tell everyone you painted with a dolphin.
Expect a lot of confusion, at first, as most people will mistakenly think you said, "I painted a dolphin."
And, the good news is, if you do happen to sell your dolphin artwork and make a lot of money, you won't have to split it with the artist.
"We won't tell them," Wise says.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.