The National Aquarium in Baltimore is preparing to acquire three more Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from a marine mammal facility in the Florida Keys.
"I would hope we're going to have two or three of them up here by the end of the month," said Jackson Andrews, the aquarium's director of husbandry.
If the aquarium does win federal permission to fly the three dolphins to Baltimore, the acquisition would bring to six the number of dolphins at the new Marine Mammal Pavilion.
Three bottlenose dolphins purchased from a Texas marine park arrived in August and are now swimming in the pavilion's 1.2 million-gallon display tank, which they share with three beluga whales captured in Hudson Bay during the 1980s.
"That should more or less be our opening team," Andrews said. The pavilion is set to open to the public on Dec. 26.
Florida authorities say the National Aquarium has been granted a transfer permit to move three dolphins from Hawk's Cay, in Marathon, Fla., to Baltimore sometime before Oct. 15. The date could be extended to Oct. 30. After that, a new permit would be needed.
Ann Terbush, permit chief at the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the transaction still requires federal approval. The dolphins would be leased from the current permit-holder, Martin R. Dinnes, a Saugus, Calif., veterinarian.
Terbush said officials at the National Aquarium have asked for federal permission to take three dolphins from Dinnes, but have not yet indicated which ones they want.
"We're waiting to hear from them with regard to the three dolphins," Terbush said. "No action is pending here until they make those decisions."
Andrews said aquarium personnel are currently performing physicals and blood tests on the animals to determine which they will bring to Baltimore.
"What I'd like to see is breeding-age females, so we can get some captive reproduction," Andrews said.
The dolphins under consideration are trained, and "one or two" have bred in captivity, he said.
Dinnes' permits to hold marine mammals are currently threatened by federal charges accusing him of numerous violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, including the alleged 1987 killing of a sea lion.
None of the alleged violations involves animals held by Dinnes at Hawk's Cay, federal authorities have said. But if he is found guilty, all his federal permits could be revoked.
Terbush said Dinnes' problems "shouldn't have any bearing" on a federal decision on the National Aquarium's request to lease three of Dinnes' dolphins.
The National Aquarium also owns another bottlenose dolphin, which was captured in Tampa Bay last November in controversial operation that drew fire from Florida state officials.
Florida's Gov. Bob Martinez has opposed any plans by the aquarium to ship that dolphin -- a male named Hekili -- out of Florida. It remains at Hawk's Cay, and Florida officials say no state transfer permit has been issued to move it from its current home.
"Hekili will not be coming up with this group of animals," Andrews said. Its future will be worked out in cooperation with Florida officials, he said.