Since it opened on Aug. 8, 1981, the National Aquarium has been awash in milestones: the first rescued animal, an oil-covered loon found in the harbor in 1981; the banana tree in the rain forest that fruited for the first time in 1984; the arrival ofSince it opened on Aug. 8, 1981, the National Aquarium has been awash in milestones: the first rescued animal, an oil-covered loon found in the harbor in 1981; the banana tree in the rain forest that fruited for the first time in 1984; the arrival of beluga whales Illamar and Anore in 1985; the opening of the Marine Mammal Pavillion last December, with its 1,300-seat amphitheater and 1.2 million gallon pool, home to three beluga whales and five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
Another one takes place this weekend: 10 years of educating and entertaining millions of visitors -- 14 million at last count. To celebrate these accomplishments, the aquarium is throwing a birthday bash that is as much a celebration of the Earth as it is of the aquarium and its 5,000 aquatic residents.
From concerts and fireworks to children's activities and boat races, a cornucopia of free events are on tap. (Some special educational events require admission to the aquarium; see accompanying schedule.) Though festivities kicked off yesterday with Dollar Day reduced admissions, there's still plenty to do.
Today has been dubbed "Fins Are In" family day and features children's activities such as face-painting and mime and magic with the group Always Entertaining. This morning local Gymboree students will perform a tumbling demonstration on the pier and, throughout the day, students from the Maryland Institute, College of Art will create a "chalk-a-long," in which they will outline a variety of sea creatures on the pier for children to fill in with colorful chalk. Later this afternoon, the Kinderman will entertain with stories, music and antics and storyteller Meliss Bunce will spin her aquatic tales and fables.
Tomorrow's events have been labeled "Earthfest" and will include hands-on conservation activities hosted by the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among other environmental organizations. Musical entertainment includes a group of Washington, D.C. teen-agers known as the Federal Focus Jazz Band and contemporary jazz artists Moon August. Also scheduled for tomorrow are the first annual Aquarium Cup Celebrity Regatta off Fort McHenry at noon and fireworks above the Inner Harbor at 9:30 p.m.
Sunday's theme is a "Salute to Water," featuring windsurfing demonstrations, sculling races, dancing by the Rhumba Club and, at 6 p.m., a concert by Paul Winter. The New Age musician performed at the aquarium's opening in 1981 and has recorded music that incorporates various environmental sounds, including those made by dolphins and whales.
These celebrations mark not only the facility's duration, but its impact, says acting Executive Director Kathy Cloyd-Sher.
"If you can picture the harbor without the aquarium, what would it be like?" she asks. "There would still be Harborplace, and the Science Center, but I think it would be a very different environment."
Different indeed. The educational programs that the aquarium produces have worked successfully to change the way people think about the environment and their relationship to it, she asserts. And, perhaps more significantly, those programs reach children at an early enough age that what they learn about recycling doesn't require a change of thinking, as is the case with most adults.
"You just try to put a bottle in the trash can and get one over on the child," she challenges. "It's not an effort for them [to think about recycling], because they have lived with it."
This is what the aquarium sees as its main purpose -- to educate. But, the director hastens to add, it's not only important to educate, but to activate. "Everyone says they want to help, but they may not know how. We say, 'Here's what you should do.' "
One way they can help is by putting change in the Conservation Parking Meter inside the Rain Forest exhibit to help buy and protect acres of the tropical jungle. Installed in April, the meter has generated more than $10,000 and has to be emptied two or three times daily.
AQUARIUM ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
(All events are free and held outdoors unless otherwise noted; in the event of rain, some activities will move inside the aquarium. For information, call 576-3833.)
`FINS ARE IN" FAMILY DAY
9 a.m.-8 p.m.: Children's activities, including face painting, appearances by inflatable characters, mime and magic with Always Entertaining.
10 a.m.: Gymboree demonstration.
10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Students from the Maryland Institute create a chalk-a-long, outlining a variety of sea creatures on the pier for children to fill in with colorful chalk.
10 a.m.-4 p.m.: "Fins Are In" stamp stations -- aquatic crafts, games for children (inside the aquarium; admission required).