WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Thousands of people crowded Sea Life Park for its 50th anniversary Saturday, drawn by the exhibits, the animals, and the ticket price.
"It's awesome," said Larissa Tuifao, who drove from Ewa Beach to the East Oahu attraction. "It's very crowded. Lots and lots of people. I mean, it was two dollars and sixty-four cents."
That was the price of a ticket when Sea Life Park opened in 1964.
Park officials say they anticipated an increase in traffic but not nearly as much traffic and not as early in the day. Doors opened at 10:00 a.m. and people lined up as early as 7:30 a.m. Park officials called it "an overwhelming attendance." They say there are normally 300 to 500 people at Sea Life Park on any given day. As of 2:00 p.m., 7,000 people had walked through the doors.
To alleviate some of the traffic, park officials secured additional parking spots and provided shuttle services to and from those spots. For those who couldn't find parking, they issued rain checks so they could come back at a later time for the same discounted price.
"I think everybody remembers coming here for school kid excursions, and all the events, the concerts ,we've had here, so it's great to see them back," said Valerie King, the park's general manager.
Now, Sea Life Park attracts 350,000 visitors a year, with an annual gross revenue of $19 million.
While visitors can still be treated to shows featuring trained dolphins and exhibit with sharks and sea lions, the facility has turned its emphasis to teaching visitors about the ocean and its inhabitants.
"Over the years, these animal parks, like Sea Life Park, has gone from an entertainment facility to an educational and a learning experience," said Jeff Pawloski, the park's curator. "You've gone from sitting and watching the shows to going in an experiencing it."
And like many animal parks, it has also drawn its share of criticism and protesters concerned about the treatment of the animals.
"The dolphins are torn from their families and have ot live in captivity, work for food," said Jennifer, one of the protesters who gathered across the highway from the park's entrance.
"If you want to see dolphins, go swim in the ocean. And it's free," said Arlene, another protester.
Pawloski said technology and research has done much to improve the lives of the animals..
"We can do amazing things with the animals to improve their quality of life, to help treat diseases that might have killed them in the wild, and to provide them a better environment in captivity," he said.
King said there are new exhibits in the works, including a new touch pool, where visitors can interact with some sea creatures, set to open next year.
"We're always trying to refresh, and there's always going to be many more great things, exhibits, shows an good stuff for the family to do."