Whale shark enthusiasts cannot have missed the furore that was caused by the capture and internment of a juvenile whale shark as an attraction in a huge glass tank at the Atlantis hotel on Dubai’s Palm Jumeriah.
The 13 ft female whale shark was caught on August 20th last year "supposedly" struggling in shallow water. The hotel’s story is that the shark was put in the aquarium for "medical care and observation" and that they would release her. But now five months later Sammy, as she has been named, is still in captivity and the managing director of the hotel, Alan Leibman, was reported saying that they had no plans on releasing the whale shark.
The capture of the shark roused an enormous public outcry in Dubai, which is almost unknown in this advanced Arabic state and prompted the launch of a ‘Free Sammy The Whale Shark’ campaign supported by a Facebook group site. Many local conservation groups took up the campaign and in October Dr Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahd, the Minister of Environment and Water, said the shark will have to be released, but to date the hotel have not complied.
During this last week the World Wildlife Fund has also stepped in demanding the shark’s release but it seems that the hotel isn’t talking to anyone about Sammy: “We have repeatedly tried to contact Atlantis directly and to this day our calls have never been returned” said Lisa Shrake-Perry, UAE World Wildlife Fund conservation programme manager in a letter to campaigners this week.
Tourism operators are also joining the Free Sammy campaign as local newspaper 7 Days reports that a German tour company Takeoff Reisen is boycotting Atlantis Hotel until it agrees to release the shark. Manager Thomas Lohrer advised that his company had received numerous requests for Atlantis but he refused to make a reservation: “I have told my clients that I am not willing to support this tragedy. Most of my clients booked either a different hotel or a different destination”.
The Atlantis Hotel opened to the public with a lavish party attended by 2000 invited guests and rumoured to have cost $20 million. The party on November 20th featured a performance by Kylie Minogue which promptly caused UK charity Marine Connection to drop the singer from their list of supporting celebrities, but not because of Sammy… the hotel also has 20 captive dolphins which the paying public can swim with… these dolphins were captured from the waters surrounding the Solomon Islands.
Meanwhile local conservationists are becoming concerned that Sammy is actually becoming quite sick and Atlantis may indeed be planning to release her, rather than risk her dying in their show tank!
And so while the name of Atlantis conjures up images of a marine utopia, the resort itself is becoming a bit of a pariah and a symbol of arrogance that Dubai’s reputation does not really need.
If you feel that you want to do something positive to Free Sammy then log on to the Facebook site or write a letter to the relevant UAE authorities:
H.E. Obaid Jumah Almatrooshi
Assistant Undersecretary for Fisheries
Ministry of Environment and Water
P.O. Box 1509
Dubai United Arab Emirates
H.E. Majid Al Mansouri
Secretary-General Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD)
P.O. Box 45553
H.E. Dr Salem Msarry Al Dhahiri
Director General Federal Environment Agency (FEA)
P.O. Box 5951
Our thanks to the Free Sammy the Whale Shark Campaign for keeping this matter in the public eye and for the information in this article.