Migration Celebration at Sanctuary Center

Sanctuary Exploration Center invites families to 'live-print' with local artist Doug Ross to celebrate migratory sea critters.

by Christian Yungert

Feb. 3, 2016—Last month, the Gray Whales returned to the Monterey Bay, as they do every winter. In April, when their migration takes them from the nutrient-rich waters of our front yard, other marine mammals will fill the void. Iconic killer whales, acrobatic humpbacks, and awe-inspiring blue whales all visit the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary to fill their stomachs and captivate onlookers.

All of them are following migratory paths that bring them here each year, while harbor seals, sea lions, and otters are permanent residents. It’s a lot to keep track of, but the beautifully informative Seasons in Sanctuary poster, commonly seen around Santa Cruz, keeps track of all the ocean-dwellers, marking their arrival and departure times.

Local print maker Doug Ross and the Sanctuary Exploration Center, two of the minds behind the popular poster, are blending art and science again at this week’s First Friday.

This Friday, the Exploration Center is inaugurating a season-long series combining art and science by hosting Ross in a collaborative effort. Given the setting, chances to learn a bit of natural history and marine biology will be inescapable, but Ross will be bringing his own unique perspective and showing that science is more than textbooks.

“I’d like to see more artists choosing to work with facts and reality,” says Ross, whose prints frequently feature images of marine mammals and birds. “There’s probably enough whimsy and fantasy out there. We don’t have enough science.”

A 24-year resident of Santa Cruz, Ross makes his living as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, but fine art is his passion.

“Graphic design gets thrown out, and I didn’t want everything I did in my life to be in the garbage,” Ross says. “I wanted to have some sort of legacy.” So in addition to his illustration work, Ross creates silkscreen prints, an art form that reaches back to China over 1,000 years ago. He finds his inspiration in his surroundings.

“I really want, before each piece, to see the animal,” Ross says. “I get a sense of their character and what they do that is unique.”

His prints are charming, playful and modernistic depictions of animal behavior. To accurately capture the personality of his marine models, Ross prefers a more intimate type of meeting, and he has plenty of those.

A veteran rescue volunteer for the Marine Mammal Rescue Center, Ross has served the organization enthusiastically for 14 years. Having heard by a radio advertisement calling for help, he leaped at the opportunity and was hooked.

“Catching an injured wild animal on the beach, bringing it in and giving it medical treatment, there’s nothing like that,” he says. “It’s the best.”

Read Doug Ross's account of rescuing an elephant seal pup near Greyhound Rock last week.

Recently, Ross rescued a female sea lion, named O’Neil, with fishing line wrapped around her head. A week’s worth of effort, including two days of attempted captures, resulted in a successful rescue and release.

“She’s easy to recognize. She’s got a scar. But the males are not gonna care,” Ross jokes.

“She keeps coming back and likes to haul out under the wharf in the spring. I saw her a year later, looking really good. That’s the best part,” he says with a broad grin.

It’s not without its own set of heartache though. “They’re out there with fishing line on them and it’s killing them slowly,” he says. “Then I try to catch and I miss and they’re gone. That was their chance to live. It’s hard to deal with, but like any hard job, you learn to deal with it.”

These personal rescues and near-misses give Ross’s prints an emotional component. Being able to hear similar sentiments from admirers of his work is another layer on the joy cake for Ross.

“When somebody comes up and tells me their personal, meaningful experience with an animal—I love to hear that.” He hopes those same meaningful attachments will bring people to the Sanctuary Exploration Center for First Friday.

“Events and open studios are great,” Ross says. “I love it. You don’t just talk about art, but it’s the thing that brings people together.”

Ross is excited about Friday’s show at the Sanctuary Exploration Center, partly because it will stimulate interest in science. A staunch supporter of science education, Ross hopes his artwork will attract families with kids to the center.

The show will feature exhibits on popular migratory animals of the Monterey Bay, including leather-back sea turtles, elephant seals, and various whales, along with other marine demonstrations.

Art and nature fans of all ages can make their own free Doug Ross silkscreen print. Choose between the popular elephant seal and leather-back sea turtle designs at the DIY station.

Information and demonstration booths from The Marine Mammal Center, the Whale Entanglement Team, and Natural Bridges State Parks will be present. Enjoy beer and wine along with live music from the WaveTones.

Sanctuary Exploration Center: 35 Pacific Ave. 4pm-8pm. Free.