Marine pavilion meets with approval Aquarium addition opened today


Graham Kelman, resplendent in a Ralph Lauren shirt and bright red tie, looked solemnly at the new Marine Mammal Pavilion at the National Aquarium today and pronounced it good.

"Real good," to be precise.

Kelman, 6, and his mother, Wendy Kelman, were among those who attended the first public viewing of the aquarium's bottlenose dolphins, who ran through a dizzying display of tricks in the 1.2 million gallon pool that they share with three beluga whales and two more, not-ready-for-prime-time dolphins.

"I like how all of them jump in threes," said Kelman, who was trying to capture the action with a camera.

"Kinda rubbery, kinda cool," was the observation of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who waded into the pool in knee-high rubber boots and gingerly stroked a dolphin -- a burning desire apparently voiced by many aquarium visitors, according to the staff.

While the opening of the new pavilion attracted a small band of animal rights activists who protested then quickly dispersed, it also attracted record crowds to the aquarium, at least for a Dec. 26 morning.

Lines began forming an hour before the 10 a.m. opening and by fTC 11 a.m., there were an estimated 1,200 paid admissions, said Kathy Cloyd, senior director for marketing and visitor services. That's about twice as many visitors as usual for the day after Christmas, traditionally a slower day than others in a holiday week.

The first show in the 1,300-seat Lyn P. Meyerhoff Amphitheater was heavy on ecology-friendly messages, light on stunts in which the dolphins interacted with the mammalogists, although these tricks seemed to be the biggest crowd-pleasers.

That was a deliberate choice, said Dave Pettenger, senior director for programs. "We had to make a decision about what is theater, what is education," he said. "People are not interested in a circus show."

As the show evolves, it will include performances from the other marine mammals and some specific suggestions for how audience members can help the ecology of the world's marine life, Pettenger said.

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