Aquarium athletes are ready to show their best moves

Fun-loving dolphins are set to `Play!' tomorrow

Family: events, activities

April 01, 2004|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,SUN STAFF

Sure, 3-year-olds love to play. All the time, in fact.

Take the 3-year-olds at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, for instance. It's always playtime for them. They, of course, are the spry young dolphins -- Maya, Spirit and Raven -- who reside at the aquarium's Marine Mammal Pavilion. Their fellow dolphin cohabitants, ages 12 to 32, love to play, as well.

In celebration of the dolphins' love of play, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is launching Play!, its latest full-scale dolphin show, tomorrow.

"We're all about Play! right now," says aquarium spokeswoman Molly Foyle, who says the show will run through 2006. "We try to do a [new dolphin] show every couple of years. The dolphins are one of our most popular exhibits, and this show promises to be very interactive."

Of the nine dolphins at the aquarium, the four males will perform at the show -- Bob, Cobie, Shadow and Raven. Four trainers will also take part in the show (including a narrator), and lead the action.

The show gives visitors a close look at dolphins' playtime behavior, which is learned from a very early age.

Dolphin calves often play-fight with each other and experiment with body postures. Young dolphins practice hunting by blowing bubbles in the water and swimming to catch them. From an early age, dolphins learn to throw and to catch with their mouths and to use their tail flukes to bat balls or to steer fish.

Play! includes various dolphin tricks, solicited by trainers, such as fluke flings and games of catch and activities with hula-hoops and traffic cones.

"Dolphins are so athletic," Foyle says. "They can spring fully out of the water. And they're trained to respond to hand signals."

While some elements of the show are choreographed to keep it moving, each show is different, depending on the audience, which, at various times will be asked to vote for the playful activity it would like to see.

Shows run 25 minutes and take place about six times a day in the Marine Mammal Pavilion. Shows are included in admission to the aquarium.

While at the aquarium, visitors can pick up the card "Play at the Aquarium!/Play at Home!," which details how the staff helps lots of its animals, including stingrays, octopuses, fish, dolphins and iguanas, to play and exercise. The card also details how visitors can play with their own pets (dogs, cats, birds, fish and hamsters) and even make toys for them.

"Play!" opens tomorrow at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Pier 3, 501 E. Pratt St. Admission is $17.50; $14.50 for ages 60 and over; $9.50 ages 3-11; free for those under 3. Call 410-576-3800 or visit www.aqua.org.

Meet the dolphins

Nine playful dolphins dwell at the Marine Mammal Pavilion at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The new dolphin show "Play!" features just the four boys, but here's a breakdown of the whole water-mammal gang.

Nani: female, 470 pounds, age 32, has a very large girth and a distinctive clip in her right pectoral flipper

Bob: male, 520 pounds, age 23, has extremely large eyes and a large, rounded rostrum (snout)

Shiloh: female, 420 pounds, age 22, has large flukes and a pink belly and is missing teeth on upper left side

Chesapeake: female, 350 pounds, age 12, has a short, plump body with a pink belly and mottling behind left eye

Cobie: male, 400 pounds, age 12, has a long, thin body and rostrum, a "mustache" marking at the base of the rostrum and large eyes

Shadow: male, 420 pounds, age 12, has lots of rake scarring

Spirit: female, 340 pounds, age 3, has large eyes, crooked teeth on the lower right side and is plump and dark-colored

Raven: male, 250 pounds, age 3, has a pointy head and a wavy edge on his "lips"

Maya: female, 350 pounds, age 3, is plump and light-colored Source: National Aquarium in Baltimore

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