This week, visitors at SeaWorld Orlando had a rare opportunity to observe renowned artist and conservationist Guy Harvey at work in the theme park. Harvey was painting a mural depicting a mako shark surrounded by fish in the new area of the park, Shark Wreck Reef, which will be home to the new Mako roller coaster that opens June 10.
Harvey, perhaps best known for his wildly popular T-shirts depicting marine life, also has created paintings and apparel that will be available only at SeaWorld. SeaWorld will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of such items directly to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
“I personally have been spending the last 20 years researching sharks in one form or other for science and for my artistic renderings,” Harvey told members of the media on Tuesday. “The last five years we have focused on the mako shark, and we are about the only organization –- based at Nova Southeastern University at Fort Lauderdale -- that is doing any comprehensive work on mako sharks, which is why SeaWorld came to me for help with branding for their new roller coaster.
“And by branding, I mean, not only am I licensing the use of my artwork for the roller coaster ride and the merchandise that ensues from it, but also more importantly, from an educational aspect. We want people to know more about sharks.”
In addition to the science and research efforts, Harvey and SeaWorld also will work together to increase public awareness about ocean health and the need for shark conservation, using the Mako coaster as a platform. In the queues for the new ride, videos hosted by Harvey will show guests sharks in the wild and ways they can help protect them, as well as some of the conservationist’s actual shark expeditions.
Harvey took some time out from working on his art project to tell us more about it.
Why did SeaWorld choose a mako shark as a model for its new hypercoaster?
Harvey: “The mako shark is the smaller cousin of the white shark. They’re one of four members of that family that include the porbeagle, the salmon shark, the white shark and the mako. They are the fastest, most developed of all the sharks. … They’re also regarded as game fish by the International Game Fish Association because of their speed and their prodigious leaps; they can jump out of the water like a sailfish or a marlin.”
Are you going to ride the roller coaster?
Harvey: “I am not going to ride the roller coaster. I’m going to be honest with you: I’m afraid of heights, and I hate speed. It’s pretty hard for me to get into an airplane. Lots of people will have lots of fun, especially the young people, so I’m looking forward to a lot of excitement and thrills.”
Why have you spent so much time studying mako sharks?
Harvey: “They are highly sought after both commercially and from a recreational perspective, and so that puts a lot of pressure on the species. We reckon nearly half a million makos a year are killed in the Atlantic Ocean alone. That’s half a million sharks in one species. And we know that somewhere between 30 and 60 million sharks are killed every year worldwide. That a very high rate of attrition on the shark species. So there’s a bit of urgency involved in (a) studying but (b) getting the results of all the research out to the public.”
With the education component, will that be geared to adults only or will there be things for children, as well?
Harvey: “Most kids that I’ve met are already very sensitized about the demise of sharks. Actually, young boys just love sharks anyways. They’ve got a head start over everybody else. So we want to work on that base and inherent interest in kids and we’re definitely going to do that though the SeaWorld machine. It’s more effective than my machine. Our combined efforts are going to be reaching a lot of kids.”
Will this mural rank in your Top 50 works of art?
Harvey: “It’s definitely going to rank in my Top 50 pieces I’ve done over the years. I’m not known for my murals. My very good friend, [Robert] Wyland, and I have done a lot of murals in Florida, but he’s really good at it and I’m not that great at it. He’s an airbrush master; I’m a paintbrush master. He paints mostly marine animals, and I like to paint fish. And that’s why we work together in harmony. It’s a nice piece. I’ve done really big pieces in the past, and it’s very appropriate for this setting. It’s going to become an iconic piece for all the people who come by here in the next five or ten years. There will be millions of people who pass this mural, and they’re going to leave SeaWorld with a much better impression and idea of what this animal does, how important it is, and its aesthetic beauty.
“Another important point: mako sharks cannot be kept in captivity like many of the other big ocean-going sharks. … This is the importance of art and TV documentaries: We dive with the animal in its natural environment and bring the image back to you. That’s the only way you can really interact with them safely. And they are few and far between so it’s pretty hard to find them, and people don’t realize the amount of time that we put into accessing the animal.”
What is your favorite fish to paint?
Harvey: “The blue marlin. It is the most amazing fish to catch, to dive with. They are a top ocean predator like mako sharks, but mako sharks have it on blue marlin. They’ll eat a blue marlin but a blue marlin would not eat a mako shark. So, the mako shark really is the top dog out there, and I say top dog because they’re not ambush predators like a white shark or some of the other shark species. They can outrun anything, and they can outrun a blue marlin or a swordfish and take it on. “
What drew you to marine life when you were younger and how did you decide to dedicate your life to this?
Harvey: “I grew up in Jamaica; I’m a 10th generation Jamaican. Both parents loved to sport fish. In those days – the ‘50s and ‘60s – we killed everything so it’s amazing to see the turnaround now, how catch-and-release sport fishing has taken off since then. So growing up there, I was really severely impacted by the sea. I read Ernest Hemingway’s story “The Old Man and The Sea” many times and it had a great impression on me. I began to draw that whole story in pen and ink. At that time, I was just using pen and ink. It’s kind of an illustrative form of art. And then I studied marine sciences at university and I did my PhD at The University of The West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, where I lived at the time.
“After a couple of years of having informal art shows and doing fishing tournaments, I got an introduction in Fort Lauderdale to a T-shirt company in 1986. So that’s 30 years ago to this year almost to the month, and because of that, my hobby became my profession. My profession became painting art and going around to places and doing what I’ve done for the last 30 years. But it’s come full circle because my background as a marine scientist has really helped in the formation of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova and, of course, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. We do a lot of research work now on the large biologic animals like sharks, billfishes and tunas. That’s our focus. We have gone into other work as well, like stingrays and groupers and lionfish – contemporary issues that face the Caribbean. But that’s it in a nutshell, and here I am today in my 60th year having fun.”