Surfrider Art Exhibit: Armored Marine Creatures

Smarts and speed can’t protect a dolphin from pollution.

No doubt about it: The ocean isn’t always a friendly place. That’s why otters, dolphins and clownfish, among others, have developed defense mechanisms to protect themselves in their underwater homes. But conditions are changing, faster and beyond the animals’ ability to evolve. For example, spinner dolphins in Hawaii now endure daily harassment from tourists who want to see their aerial acrobatics. If this is how we treat a species that we love, how can we be expected to treat all the creatures that we’ve just forgotten about?

Ocean conservation nonprofit Surfrider, in conjunction with Los Angeles-based design and advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, aims to make sure that we don’t forget. Together with production designer Bruce McCloskey, special effects artist, puppeteer, model maker and production designer Greg Aronowitz, and production designer Paul Rice, the two organizations created the exhibit Ocean Armor, which will run at the Aquarium of the Pacific from September 15 to November 15.

The artists produced four life-sized sets of armor for four animals — the clownfish, the bottlenose dolphin, the Alaskan sea otter and the red-crowned crane. Each set of armor draws from a different set of influences; for example, the red-crowned crane’s eight-foot wingspan is (allegorically) protected by a suit inspired by 12th-century samurai, incorporating lacquered steel, leather and silk. In contrast, the clownfish’s normally playful visage is safeguarded under grim plates inspired by eighth-century Greek armor.

The striking, lovingly-wrought creations drive home a poignant point: These animals need protection from human depredation. In order to derive some solutions, the Aquarium of the Pacific will also debut Ocean in Motion on September 15. The exhibit aims to educate audiences about the links between human activity and ocean life by examining issues like overfishing and dead zones in the ocean.

Looked at from one perspective, the concept behind the exhibit could seem a little shrill: After all, if you covered an otter with plate armor, it would sink to the bottom of the sea. But oil runoff and competition for food and habitat are just as serious a threat to the species’ survival as burning arrows and swords used to be to the Greeks.

For more information, check out the exhibit’s website. To see what other projects Surfrider has on the table, check their website here.