National Aquarium Goes Down Under
a little skittish these days but that’s to be
expected. The two-year-old wallaby is getting used to his new digs
at the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s much anticipated — and
newly opened — exhibit, “Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes.”
Not all of the 1,800 native animals that will make
their home at the Aquarium have joined Boomer yet. Some of them,
such as the not-quite-so-cute fruit bats—are still adapting to their new waterfront home (and
without having to pay downtown real estate prices)—not to mention
the 400,000 yearly visitors the Aquarium hopes to attract.
The “gorgeous, vertical, and immersive” exhibit, as Aquarium
officials describe it, opened on December 16 after five years, and
$74.6 million, in the planning. “Animal Planet Australia” is
the largest expansion since the Aquarium opened 24 years ago.
In remarks made to the press before the official
opening, Executive Director David Pittenger said that the Aquarium’s
goal in planning this expansion had been not only to create a signature
exhibit for the Aquarium itself but also to add to the presence of
the Baltimore skyline. Mission accomplished!
The exhibit—which overlooks Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront—depicts
a typical river gorge in Australia’s Northern Territory (which
lies more than 24 hours from Baltimore, as an introductory film instructs),
and houses more than 120 species of animals, including freshwater crocodiles,
turtles, fishes, and free-flying birds.
You can walk through the bottom of the gorge, come nose to nose with
free-roaming lizards basking on rocky cliffs, see colorful birds swooping
and squawking overhead, feel a squirt of water as an archer fish hunts
for its food, view flying foxes hanging from cliffside trees and appreciate
the thick acrylic that separates them from the freshwater crocodiles
and venomous death adder snakes.
The new hand-carved and painted habitat, with its 35-foot rock-walled
waterfall, depicts this land of flood, drought and fire; parts of the
exhibit have even been scorched to represent fires from lightning strikes.
The animals, many from Australia, began arriving
in Baltimore in late 2002 and have been living – and growing – at the Aquarium’s
off-site animal care center for the past few years. Among the largest
of the animals that will live in the new habitat are the three to four
foot long barramundi fish, five foot long crocodiles and the flying
Why did the National Aquarium in Baltimore mount
this challenging and years-long effort to depict a remote part of
Australia? According to Jack Cover, the Aquarium’s general curator, Australia is well
known for its unique flora and fauna. Many of the 100,000 species found
there aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
The new exhibit offers a stark contrast to the
tropical rain forest exhibit, said Cover, in addition to depicting
a visually stunning, and colorful, environment, complete with flocks
of rainbow lorikeets and Gouldian finches.
“We expect to introduce…visitors
fascinating sights, animals and culture,” said Cover. “We
have worked hard to make the exhibit as authentic as possible and hope
that after their visit more people will want to travel to Australia
and experience this incredible environment first-hand.”
An entire new 64,500-square-foot building – the Aquarium’s
first expansion since 1990 – offers improved visitor amenities,
the Old Bay Café, and Aquarium Shop, in addition to the exhibit.
The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park, under construction
in front of the Aquarium, will open this year.
Admission to the Aquarium is $13.50 for children 3-11 and $19.50 for
those 12 and older. Children under 3 are admitted free. Admission to
the Australia exhibit is included in the ticket price.
The Aquarium is located at Pier 3, 501 East Pratt Street.
For more information, call (410) 576-3800, or visit www.aqua.org.