Favoring a promotion from within, the board of Baltimore's National Aquarium named David M. Pittenger yesterday as the fourth executive director in the 13-year-old history of the Inner Harbor attraction.
Mr. Pittenger, 45, who has been the deputy executive director since 1992, received congratulations and handshakes all day from employees throughout the aquarium complex. He said he views his promotion not only as a personal honor, but "a vote of confidence in the staff" by the board members.
Chairman James A. Flick Jr. said a search committee hired a consultant to examine how outside candidates in the zoo and aquarium field would measure up but interviewed only Mr. Pittenger.
"We felt we did not have to interview others. Dave has grown and matured into truly a premier person in the industry," said Mr. Flick, who is chairman and chief executive officer of the Dome Corp.
Mr. Pittenger joined the aquarium staff as education director in 1979 -- two years before its opening.
He left in the mid-1980s to work on an aquarium project in Portland, Maine, that is still unbuilt. He returned at the invitation of executive director Nicholas Brown to be project manager of an expansion -- the popular Marine Mammal Pavilion.
Mr. Pittenger traced his interest in the environment and animal conservation to his childhood in Philadelphia, collecting snakes and spending his summers at the Tinicum wildlife preserve, where a friend of his brother worked as a biologist.
A social sciences major at Cornell University in the 1960s, Mr. Pittenger said he had thoughts of joining the Peace Corps. But he worked summers at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and, after receiving his undergraduate degree in 1971, took a job as a teacher-naturalist there.
He also learned to scuba dive in the rough and murky Atlantic waters off the New Jersey coast. The interest took him to Florida in the summer of 1978 to work as a seasonal park ranger in the Everglades, and in his free time he enjoyed underwater exploration in the Keys.
Looking to the future, Mr. Pittenger sees a number of challenges, including continued expansion -- keeping in mind the institution's focus on its environmental conservation message and the need to maintain and increase the 1.5 million annual attendance that supports conservation work and research.
Among proposals under consideration are the addition of an IMAX theater -- a top draw already at the Maryland Science Center on the diagonally opposing harbor shore -- and a new hall that would feature changing exhibits, such as jellyfish.
But he emphasized that deciding what to do next will be "an aquarium family process."
Mr. Pittenger -- the father of two daughters, Katie, 8, and Rebecca, 10 -- lives in Cockeysville, where his wife, Twig George, is completing work on a children's book (fiction, he says) about a dolphin born in an aquarium.