- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Dolphins Maya, Spirit, Raven and Shadow will have a bucket of smelt, squid and mackerel. The humans will have coffee, bagels, juice and muffins.

That's the menu for Breakfast With the Dolphins, a special event at the National Aquarium in Baltimore that brings together dolphins and dolphin lovers. Once a month, the aquarium opens early for visitors to get an up-close view of how the aquarium's nine resident dolphins live, eat and train.

"What we are trying to get across is a behind-the-scenes look at our daily dolphin show," says Chris DeAngelo, curator of marine mammals at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. "People will see it is not so glamorous to be an animal trainer we stink like fish all day."

Smell notwithstanding, the aquarium's dolphins which include three calves born in Baltimore in 2001 remain a top draw at the aquarium, Ms. DeAngelo says.

"There is a huge interest in dolphins," she says. "I think part of the appeal is that people look at them in a certain way. Their face structure is such that they look like they are smiling. They are intelligent and friendly animals."

Nichele Kothe, 11, of Ellicott City, Md., is a big dolphin fan. Nichele recently swam with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla., and has accumulated all things dolphin ever since. She has dolphin posters in her room and came to the March Breakfast With the Dolphins adorned with dolphin earrings and a dolphin necklace.

"She would like to be a dolphin trainer," says Nichele's stepmother, Michelle Henderson.

After enjoying a Continental breakfast, visitors to Breakfast With the Dolphins assemble in the aquarium's dolphin amphitheater for the show. On the way from the breakfast area to the seats, visitors can enjoy interactive exhibits that explain such subjects as types of marine mammals and how dolphins see with sonar and use sound to communicate.

While waiting for the show, one also can get an underwater view of the dolphins from the ground-level viewing tank.

The breakfast show features several film clips of the dolphins' day. The most informative shows the trainers arriving at 6 a.m. to measure out a day's food about 300 pounds total for the three generations of dolphins at the aquarium. This part involves audience participation, too, when five volunteers are selected to hand-feed the dolphins.

The trainers also talk about how they care for the dolphins, including tasks such as weighing the animals and brushing their teeth. Another portion of the talk includes a lesson on the environment. The trainers give quick tips on how conservation such as picking up trash at the beach so dolphins won't eat it can help our dolphin friends.

The most entertaining part of the show is when the trainers explain how they teach the dolphins the show-worthy jumps and flips. The dolphins learn through positive reinforcement, the audience learns as the trainers demonstrate training exercises that go into teaching a jump. The audience is then treated to impressive dolphin tricks.

There is more audience participation in this portion, too, as children from the audience are selected to "play" with the dolphins by throwing them hula hoops and footballs to end the show.

To celebrate the first birthday of Spirit, Raven and Maya the calves born last year the aquarium is offering many special dolphin events in addition to Breakfast With the Dolphins. Visitors can see a film about the calves, meet the dolphin trainers and attend special story times and birthday celebrations through mid-June. Highlights include:

• April 28 Raven's birthday celebration. Visitors can make a birthday card and enjoy cupcakes.

• May 4 and 5 Dolphins and friends weekend. Visitors can meet dolphin trainers and hear a lecture on the dolphin mind (Saturday at 5 p.m.).

• May 12 Maya's birthday celebration. Special cupcakes, an art project and a special Mother's Day gift for mom will be part of the program.

• May 19 Story time. Magical tales from the sea for children ages 4 to 8 will be told (11:40 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.).

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