Interesting news on the captive whale shark at the Atlantis, the same Dubai casino mentioned in the Say “NO” To Whale Sharks In Captivity petition template. How much similarity might there be in Singaporean sentiment on keeping whale sharks captive post-opening?
Environmentalists are calling for a hotel resort in Dubai to free a whale shark from its aquarium.Photo: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum, 2008
The Atlantis hotel, which opened last month, has been billed as the biggest and one of the best resorts in the country.
The 4m (13ft) whale shark can be seen circling the hotel’s aquarium – a tank built to invoke the ruins of Atlantis, the mythical Lost City.
The hotel, on the Palm Jumeirah island, originally said it had “rescued” the shark, which is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Campaigners and residents say the whale shark – named Sammy – should be released into its natural habitat.
The shark, which could grow up to 12m (39ft), was caught off the coast of Dubai six weeks ago.
The management of the hotel said they had “rescued” an animal, who was in distress, but former employees have told the local press that capturing a whale shark had always been planned as a tourist attraction.
An independent survey has shown more than a third of those questioned would be more likely to visit the resort to see it, but there is a growing swell of public opinion that the animal should be released and tagged.
The hotel has refused to comment on whether Sammy will be released.
The hotel was the first to open on The Palm, a man-made island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates that is shaped like a palm tree. It was touted as one of the emirate’s most extravagant hotels to date, featuring a water park, aquarium, 1,500 guest rooms and 16 restaurants.
The publicity surrounding Sammy is the latest in a string of problems faced by the hotel. Three weeks before the opening, a fire billowed smoke through the lobby and a week after its opening, one of its main water valves ruptured, cutting off the water supply in the hotel.
The world’s most lavish hotel has been condemned by environmentalists for shipping dolphins from the South Pacific to the Middle East to stock a marine attraction.
By Charles Starmer-Smith, Travel News Editor
Last Updated: 8:29PM GMT 20 Nov 2008Photo: EPA
The £950 million Atlantis hotel, which officially opens on Thursday, has been built by Sol Kerzner, a South African hotelier, on the Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai.
It boasts that its dolphin facility – Dolphin Bay – will be the first rescue and rehabilitation centre for injured or stranded dolphins in Dubai.
But the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has claimed that 24 bottlenose dolphins, used to stock the pools, were bought from a dealer in the Solomon Islands.
The WDCS claim that the dolphins, which had originally come from the waters surrounding the Solomon Islands, will now be used to entertain guests, who will be able to pay to swim with them. A 90-minute “shallow water interaction” experience with the dolphins costs visitors from around £75.
The row follows an order issued last month by the government of the United Arab Emirates to free a 13ft whale shark from a huge tank in the lobby of the 1,539-room hotel, after an international outcry.
Environmentalists claimed that the owners of the Atlantis hotel had disregarded international permit laws after capturing the shark in shallow waters off the Gulf coast in August and then used it as a display for hotel guests.
“It’s outrageous and hypocritical that Atlantis is claiming to be committed to conservation and to have a rescue and rehabilitation centre when they have supported the trade in dolphins by buying these animals,” said WDCS captivity campaigner, Cathy Williamson.
She added that life expectancy is shorter for animals in captivity and interaction with humans, such as the swimming with dolphin experiences offered at Dolphin Bay, puts the animals at risk of injury and infections.
Juan Vasquez, legal officer for CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), who looked at the legal issues surrounding the export of dolphins from the Solomon Islands, said that the species was not endangered but that for some people their export was an ethical issue.
A spokeswoman for Atlantis said it was entirely committed to the welfare of all marine life at the resort.
“The dolphins in residence at Dolphin Bay came from an existing facility in the Solomon Islands called the Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre. During the year they have been in residence in Dubai, two calves have been born, a sign of excellent acclimation and good health,” she said.
“Dolphin Bay’s 4.5 hectare lagoon maintains a covered and sound blocked area which was created to safeguard the animals from inclement weather. This area will be utilised during the Grand Opening evening for the assured safety and comfort of the animals.”
Marine expert and author Tim Ecott has been investigating the dolphin trade for several years.
“The morality of captive dolphin encounters for tourists is complex. Strictly speaking this species is not endangered, and Atlantis invests a lot of money in giving them a high standard of veterinary care and welfare,” he said.
“But people pay a lot of money to swim with dolphins – and this has generated a business in capturing and selling dolphins to places like Atlantis. It’s up to tourists to decide whether they want to exploit an intelligent species in this way.”
The row will cause further embarrassment to the resort owners ahead of the star-studded launch party tomorrow, which includes Oprah Winfrey, Robert DeNiro, Janet Jackson and the Duchess of York among its guests, as well as performances from singer Kylie Minogue.
The Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Centre was not available for comment.