The long-awaited $35 million marine mammal pavilion at Baltimore's National Aquarium will open to the public on Wednesday, featuring five dolphins, three whales and steeply increased admission prices to help pay for the new edifice.

Completion of the dramatic, pyramidal glass building adjacent to the aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor culminates years of planning for what Executive Director Nicholas Brown calls its "mission: to create an understanding of the environment and the ecological balance of life."

The pavilion, with its 1.2 million-gallon pool, originally was scheduled to open last May, almost three years after groundbreaking. Construction delays and animal rights protests against the capture of wild dolphins postponed the opening.

Now with its official opening coming the day after Christmas, pavilion publicists billed it as the public's "best present" of the holiday season.

Joined by an enclosed walkway to the aquarium, the pavilion will spotlight its five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and three beluga whales during 20-minute-long shows, or "educational presentations," when the animals demonstrate their agility and maneuvering skills under the guidance of trainers, according to aquarium officials. A sixth dolphin may be added to the collection later.

The public will be able to see the mammals from a 1,300-seat amphitheater as well as from underwater viewing areas.

The pavilion also houses classrooms, a laboratory and other educational facilities.

To help pay for it all, the aquarium raised admission prices in June from $7.75 to $9.25. The price goes up again on Wednesday to $10.75. Students, senior citizens and active-duty military personnel will pay $8.50. Children ages 3 to 11 can get in for $6.50. Children under 3 will continue to be admitted free. Admission allows visitors to both the aquarium and pavilion.