Via @ DP Times. Following the herd of elephant statues that had been paraded around Dana Point and across the world, a pod of painted dolphins will soon be displayed throughout the town.

Artist Dana Yarger will unveil his latest community art project, “Dana Dolphins,” at the ArtFest on Sunday, June 5. Yarger will display three of the dolphins that are part of a larger exhibition, aimed at raising awareness for ocean water quality and the safety of marine life.

The rest of the 4-foot painted dolphins are expected to be unveiled in mid-June.

The project follows Yarger’s Elephant Parade exhibition, which raised awareness for the endangered Asian elephant.

For eight weeks in the fall of 2013, painted elephant statues standing at about 5 feet were first placed throughout Dana Point before going on display in other parts of the world, including 40 cities in 20 countries.

That exhibit culminated with a gala and auction, where funds from the purchased artwork went to the Asian Elephant Foundation and participating artists. The elephants returned to Dana Point from October 2021 to January 2022.

Similarly, Yarger said, he hopes to raise funds for ocean and marine life through the Dana Dolphins project.

Though the idea behind the project has evolved over time, Yarger aimed to have each dolphin designed to look like what a dolphin might want to be if it were a human for a day—a concept he called “Dreaming Dolphins.”

“Since humans project onto dolphins’ humanistic aspects because we love dolphins, we’ve seen so many in movies and television, and we always have Flipper, etc. The idea was to turn the concept around,” Yarger said. “If it could be a human for a day, what would it want to be?”

The first two statues to come in under the “Dreaming Dolphins” concept were designed to look like an Angels baseball player and one as Marvel Comics’ Captain America.

From “Dreaming Dolphins,” the concept grew to “Dancing Dolphins,” since the statues look like they’re dancing atop the wooden barrels on which they’re mounted. The barrels are a nod to its function in maritime history.

“Most people look at barrels now and they think of wine, but in ancient mariner times, it was actually the shipping container at the time,” Yarger said. “It brought the food, it brought the tools, it brought the goods or merchandise, etc.”

Reflecting on Dana Point’s maritime history, each barrel will sport a Richard Henry Dana quote from Two Years Before the Mast, as well as a QR code.

When scanned, the QR codes will take patrons to the exhibition’s website, informing them of where to go to find all 12 statues around the town, and a reward for finding them all.

“We try to look at it not just as a contemporary interpretation, but to kind of get people thinking back about the ocean, about the dolphins and about maritime history,” Yarger said.

In reference to Richard Henry Dana, the project’s latest name is “Dana Dolphins.”

Yarger hopes to spark a conversation about ocean water quality, good ocean stewardship and the safety of marine life.

“We want people to think about taking care of the ocean; who to take care of it better than the people that use it?” Yarger said. “That’s really the respect, not to take the ocean just as a beautiful thing to look at. That it’s a critical aspect of the environment and, therefore, a critical aspect of human existence.”

Artist Rick Erkeneff adorned one dolphin statue with unique trash that he’d collected off local beaches. Erkeneff saved trash from each time he went surfing at Salt Creek or Strands Beach, and each beach cleanup he attended.

“So, I’ve collected a bunch of unique trash and a bunch of common trash and adorned this beautiful sculpture with what I found on the beach,” Erkeneff said.

Yarger had asked Erkeneff to participate in the exhibition just after an oil spill in early October 2021 occurred off the Orange County coastline, Erkeneff said.

“It just kind of hit me to do trash: ‘Trashed Dolphin,’ ” said Erkeneff, who serves as the vice-chairperson for the Surfrider Foundation South Orange County Chapter. “I know it’s supposed to be flights and fantasy, which is fine, but this is what rang true to me.”

Erkeneff hopes that people who view his statue are left with a feeling of the impact that single-use plastic leaves on the environment.

“I hope they realize that every piece of plastic that they use, be it a toothbrush, a cigarette lighter or plastic fork at lunch, it never goes away, and it doesn’t get recycled,” Erkeneff said. “So, this is an accumulation just off our local beach, and there’s a lot more out there.”

“We really need to be conscious of what we use for single-use plastic,” Erkeneff added.

Yarger plans to have the statues displayed throughout the city, with the hopes of auctioning off the statues to benefit ocean-related causes in September. Following the auction, Yarger wants to continue to grow the project, aiming to ultimately display 36 dolphin statues.