Marine mammals are in rehearsal for aquarium opener Members to get preview of Dec. 26 performance

December 14, 1990|By David Michael Ettlin

Baltimore's National Aquarium is preparing its cast of dolphins and beluga whales for the Dec. 26 opening of the Marine Mammal Pavilion with a series of "dress rehearsal" performances of their educational show.

Audiences invited to special rehearsals have included legislators, donors and, for yesterday's performance, dozens of newspaper, radio and television journalists whose reports the aquarium marketing staff hopes will prime the curiosity of a wider audience.

For a week beginning today, thousands of aquarium members -- all invited to attend previews -- will fill the pavilion's "stadium," giving the employees, five dolphins and three beluga whales an idea of what to expect from the crowds anticipated after the official opening.

Initially, spectators will see a presentation by the bottlenose dolphins Nalu, Nani and Akai, purchased in August from a defunct theme park in Galveston, Texas. Their long-time trainer, Doug Messinger, has been hired as an assistant curator and worked with the dolphins in yesterday's show.

The performances take place in one of three sections separated by gates in the marine mammals' 1.2 million-gallon pool.

Only the Texas dolphins perform. The others -- Shiloh and Hailey, on loan from a California company that supplies dolphins to aquariums -- and belugas Anore, Kia and Sikku swim in their sections of the tank.

Vicki Aversa, spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the other dolphins and whales are expected to join the shows next year. All have been given months to become acclimated to their environment.

What most visitors will not see are the precautions and equipment behind the scenes that aquarium officials hope will demonstrate their concern for the well-beingof the creatures in the $21.3 million pavilion.

The pavilion includes pumps and filters that clean thousands of gallons of water every minute, a computerized control room overlooking the pool and staffed around-the-clock, and a medical-surgical section and 93,000-gallon isolation tank for the care of ailing animals.

Aquarium officials said the isolation tank could be used in an emergency for the care of a stranded marine mammal rescued from an area beach or waterway.

Aquariums and marine attractions are facing objections and demonstrations by animal-rights activists and growing public concern over the capture and exhibition of marine mammals.

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