Aquarium changes aimed at improving visitors' experience

July 29, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The Olympic divers in Barcelona have nothing on the aquatic acrobats at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

From Nani's double backflip to Nalu's forward flip with a half twist, the 20-minute presentation at Baltimore's marine mammal pavilion has always showcased the agility and strength of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Now it has been fine-tuned to stress their intelligence and adaptability as well.

Besides high-flying spins and flips, visitors can now see video close-ups of the mammals' teeth and blow holes, watch an underwater tape showing the birth of two dolphin calves born in March, and watch a brief conservation-oriented message suggesting ways people can help clean up the environment.

The revamped dolphin show is just one of many changes aquarium officials have made or have planned to improve the visitor experience at the Inner Harbor's most popular paid tourist attraction, now approaching its 11th anniversary Aug. 8.

Changes in the marine mammal pavilion on Pier 4 are partially intended to "beef up" that building so there will be more to see and do when two exhibits in the 11-year-old building on Pier 3 are drained for repairs in the fall of 1993. The rest of the complex will remain open for the duration of the repairs.

The latest changes also reflect an attempt by aquarium officials to impart a stronger message about the need for global stewardship of the environment.

"The conservation message is central," said Executive Director Nicholas Brown. "This aquarium was opened as an economic development tool. But as we lived with it, we realized that the conservation message is what justifies the holding of wild animals in an artificial environment. That's the raison d'etre."

The exhibit changes include:

* The addition of sandbar and smooth dogfish sharks in the "Wings Under Water" exhibit, home to a collection of 50 rays and skates.

* The addition to the Hidden Life Gallery of newly collected invertebrates, venomous snakes and tree frogs from Costa Rica, including a black velvet tarantula and two venomous pit vipers.

* The addition by fall of cuttlefish and moon jellyfish exhibits to the adaptations gallery.

* The completion of Portraits in Conservation, an exhibit in the marine mammal pavilion that teaches visitors about the plight of the sea otter, manatee, river dolphin, monk seal and other endangered marine mammals. It is the first of several educational exhibits that will be added by next spring to the pavilion's lower and main levels.

* A video and laser-light extravaganza that will open in the ring tank area when the Open Ocean and Atlantic Coral Reef tanks are drained for repairs.

Mr. Brown also announced that the aquarium's Dollar Day, the one day in the year when visitors get in for $1 rather than the standard $11.50, will be Oct. 3, not the anniversary date of Aug. 8. He said the staff moved the date from the peak summer tourist season to give more local residents a chance to take advantage of the price reduction and not have to compete with out-of-town crowds.

The dolphin calves born in March are nursing in the "maternity pool" with their mothers, Hailey and Shiloh, and are still too young to be part of the dolphin show. But mammalogists point them out to visitors and warn they will occasionally upstage the other dolphins.


Marine Mammal Pavilion

* New 20-minute dolphin demonstration

* New exhibit: Portraits in Conservation

* Educational exhibits on marine mammals, including a 10-foot-tall cylindrical tank of alewives and interactive exhibits on adaption, feeding and other behaviors to be added by 1993.

Original building

* Wings Under Water Exhibit -- Sandbar sharks and smooth dogfish sharks added to lower level ray exhibit.

* Cuttlefish and moon jellyfish exhibits will be added to adaptations gallery by fall.

*Hidden Life Gallery exhibits will feature an 8-inch millipede and other insects from Costa Rica, a tropical land crab, a black velvet tarantula, two venomous pit vipers and two species of tree frogs.

* A video and laser light show will be added while the Open Ocean and Atlantic Coral Reef exhibits are undergoing repairs starting in the fall of 1993.

Dollar Day

* The annual $1-a-person admission fee will be in effect on Saturday, Oct. 3, rather than the aquarium's anniversary date, Aug. 8.

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