Watching a dolphin do flips in the air and walk on its tail is the stuff of wide-eyed childhood wonderment, but it evokes a few ooohs and aahs from adults, too. So the new Marine Mammal Pavilion, which opened its doors this week, will make a big splash indeed in Baltimore.
The $35 million pavilion is an impressive addition to the National Aquarium. It boasts Beluga whales and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, a 110-foot-wide pool where dolphins perform, exhibitions, artwork, interactive games, a discovery room with marine animal artifacts, classrooms and a 40-foot replica of a humpback whale. Officials predict that it will draw an additional 200,000 visitors a year to the aquarium.
Still, opening day was marred by controversy as animal-rights groups protested what they perceive to be exploitation of the dolphins by taking them out of their natural habitat and using them for show purposes. While there is certainly an element of commercialism about this enterprise, there is little doubt that the animals are being treated humanely and getting proper care. As important, the facility will provide an unparalleled, firsthand encounter with the world of the sea that most Baltimoreans would otherwise never experience; its cultural value, particularly for children, is no less impressive than that offered by the city's many museums and theaters.
The richness of this new resource, in social and economic terms, makes it a valuable addition to downtown development.