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SeaQuest opens to public; grand opening met with criticism, protesters

About 1,000 people have come to visit live exhibit since Wednesday

LYNCHBURG, Va. – SeaQuest, an exhibit that features animals from around the world, finally opened to the public Friday.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the canaries and the stingrays,” 9-year-old Tyler said. 

On Friday, families lined up by the dozens at Lynchburg's River Ridge Mall to see what SeaQuest is all about. 

"She loves the fish, she loves the different animals," Robin Wood, grandmother, said of her granddaughter, Reece Wallace.

On the other side of the mall and across the street were Elizabeth Russell and other protesters.

"SeaQuest has a long and well-documented history of neglecting and abusing animals, not providing proper care and enclosures for them. It's just not something that we need or want here," Russell, the protest organizer, said.

SeaQuest managers said so far, about 1,000 people have come to the live exhibit since Wednesday.

They said they're aware of the different opinions and invite critics to check it out.

"Really see how the animals are cared for, how they're provided for. They have excellent diets. They have excellent medical care. They're seen by a veterinarian on a regular basis," Shannon Jeirles, the general manager of SeaQuest Lynchburg, said.

After the protest and out of curiosity, Russell decided to pay a visit.

"It was, you know, cramped, you know, small places. There was no natural light for the animals," Russell said.
 
10 News reporter Magdala Louissaint asked Russell, "Was there anything that struck you into possibly changing your mind?"

"Oh no. No, no, I've made up my mind about this sort of place," Russell said. "I understand that animals are beautiful and interesting and people want to see them and experience them. There's a time and a place for that, and it's not inside a mall or a cloudy water tank."