Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Sunday, 19 October 2008 15:26 UK

Dubai hotel urged to free shark

By Julia Wheeler
BBC News, Dubai

"Sammy" the shark in the Atlantis hotel aquarium
The plight of the shark has captured the imagination of Dubai's residents

Pressure is growing on Dubai's newest and largest hotel resort to free a whale shark from its aquarium.

The Atlantis Hotel, on the iconic Palm Jumeirah island, originally said it had "rescued" the animal, which is recognised as an endangered species.

The hotel is now refusing to say if or when the whale shark will be released.

Environmentalists and Dubai residents are now demanding that the shark - nicknamed Sammy by one paper - should be released into its natural habitat.

The Atlantis hotel, which opened last month, was billed as the biggest and one of the best resorts in Dubai.

But it has already witnessed some major setbacks. A fire billowed smoke through the lobby three weeks before the opening.

Then, a week after opening, one of its main water valves ruptured, resulting in no water in much of the hotel.

Now the focus is on the 4m (13ft) whale shark that circles the hotel's aquarium - a tank built to invoke the ruins of Atlantis, the so-called Lost City.


The shark, who could grow up to 12m (39ft), was caught off the coast of Dubai six weeks ago.

The management talk of "rescuing" an animal, who was in distress, but former employees have told the local press that capturing a whale shark was always part of the hotel's plan to provide an added 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.

Whale sharks are protected under the Cites convention and the plight of this member of an endangered species has captured the imagination of the public.

One popular newspaper has launched a freedom campaign.

Children are talking about it in school assemblies and local environmentalists are strongly urging its release.

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