TODAY   |  May 18, 2013

Erica paints with Las Vegas’ dolphin da Vinci

Cosmo, a 9-year-old dolphin, has learned to paint in a new program at the Mirage Education and Research Habitat in Las Vegas. Cosmo’s methods are anything but conventional, and he showed off his skills for TODAY’s Erica Hill.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: the flips and flops never get old but if you think you've seen all the talent dolphins have to offer, you haven't met cosmo .reporter: tell us a little about cosmo who we're meeting today. he's a really fun really adorable dolphin and he's very interested in learning new behaviors.9-year-old cosmo recently took up painting as part of a new program that allows guests to interact with the dolphins at the mirage education and research habitat in las vegas . what i'm looking for is for him to make contact with the canvas at all times, regardless of what the canvas is. and needs to keep moving his head until i blow the whistle .

>> reporter: cosmo 's brush strokes mimic natural dolphin movement and fife of the ten dolphins have been trained to use these special brushes, secured inside buoys. how long did it take cosmo to learn to do this?

>> maybe about a month or so.

>> reporter: because you're gifted, right? yeah, exactly. while painting with the dolphins sounds like play time , lead dolphin care specialist erin wise says the art is really about the animal's well-being.

>> training them new behaviors is the best way to provide mental stimulation. it's problem solving, a sense of control over their environment.

>> reporter: keeping these animals engaged is essential. what don't they get in human care that they have in the wild?

>> wild population are stimulated by the instinct for survival. in human care , we have to find other ways to keep them mentally stimulated.

>> reporter: recreating the environment for that stimulation is a 24-hour operation. where does the water come from? sea water that you bring in?

>> no, we make the saltwater inhouse.

>> reporter: and then there is the food. more than 200 pounds of restaurant grade fish prepared fresh daily.

>> they eat better than some people.

>> reporter: and they need it. bottle nosed dolphins can weigh as much as 650 pounds. the twists and jumps that seem like a performance to us humans are natural exercises for these mammals. who can swim as fast as 22 miles per hour. though sometimes the most important thing they can do is slow down. training dolphins to participate in their own health care , the reason we can get nice and close to them, see their bodies, have them relaxed. put your hand right up there. and one, two, three. good job!

>> reporter: cosmo creates a limited number of paintings each week, and like any good artist, his masterpieces don't come cheap. 200 bucks a pop. but trainers like erin hope the experience will leave guests with a passion for conservation and a commitment to their ar tust artist's well-being. look at your work? are you happy with it? i am too. thank you.