Wild Australia



If you stroll through the National Aquarium's new Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit, make sure to look up and around.

There are animals on three levels: fish and turtles in tanks to the left, lizards on trees and rocks above on both sides and birds and bats high up. The exhibit, which opens at noon tomorrow, reconstructs a river gorge in northern Australia.

The animals range from turtles with necks so long they can't really retract them to "living fossils" named lungfish.

"Many of the species that live in Australia are unique to Australia," said Animal Planet biologist Jeff Corwin during a recent tour of the new exhibit.

"There's a huge rate of endemic species that you'll find nowhere else," he said. "... I spent two months looking for wild lungfish in Australia and never found one. All I had to do was come here."

Before touring the new exhibit, you might want to brief yourself on the ground you're about to cover and some of the animals you'll see there. In the Meyerhoff Theatre, you can watch Fire and Flood: The Land of Extremes, a short film narrated by actor Ernie Dingo.

About 15 minutes long, the movie features animals and scenery from a section of northern Australia that can receive 8 inches of rain in the wet season and fires in the dry season. The aquarium will show Fire and Flood regularly over the weekend.

Tomorrow, the aquarium will offer its Fridays after Five discount, $7.50, from noon to 8 p.m.

The aquarium will also present Australian-themed entertainers all weekend.

Musician Cameron McCarthy will play the didgeridoo in the lower-level lobby for 30-minute intervals all weekend. The traditional Australian wind instrument resembles a long tube and when blown through, creates a low, vibrating hum.

The Pier 4 classrooms, which are outside the dolphin amphitheater, will host Australian-themed activities for children this weekend. They include storytelling, crafts, face painting, music and artifacts.

Four times a day, the Barefoot Puppet Theater from Richmond, Va., will perform Dreamtime: Tales From Down Under in the underwater dolphin viewing area on Pier 4. The show lasts about 30 minutes and draws its inspiration from three Aboriginal folktales.

Australian entertainer Paul Killingly will sing, tell stories and play didgeridoo and guitar this weekend in the Harbor Overlook at the top of the escalators.

"Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes" opens at the National Aquarium noon-8 p.m. tomorrow. Regular hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Thursdays and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays. The Aquarium is at 501 E. Pratt St. 410-576-3800 or aqua.org.


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