13 January 2009

Whale shark at Dubai Atlantis: still in captivity

For many animal rights campaigners, the word Atlantis has become synonymous with a much darker tale - that of the whale shark in its aquarium.

Donna Ralph, who founded the ‘Set The Whale Shark Free’ Facebook group, said she had a meeting with an Atlantis manager in October but has not seen any progress since then.

“Its frustrating because people from all over the world are asking us about it and nothing at all has happened,” she said. “We have many people - from the US, from Cuba, from all over the world saying they want this shark released.”

Feeling blue
7Days 9 Jan 09;

The whale shark continues to be paraded at the Atlantis hotel months after it was first captured, reports Sean O’Driscoll.

The hotel’s name evokes images of a nautical paradise. But for many animal rights campaigners, the word Atlantis has become synonymous with a much darker tale - that of the whale shark in its aquarium.

Now the world’s largest environmental protection group, The World Wildlife Fund, has stepped in to the furore.

It has called on Atlantis hotel to free the creature.

But it is feared that the group’s words are falling on deaf ears. “We have repeatedly tried to contact Atlantis directly and to this day our calls have never been returned,” Lisa Shrake-Perry, UAE World Wildlife Fund conservation programme manager, said in a letter to campaigners this week.

Ms Perry, who represents the Emirates Wildlife Society section of the WWF, was writing to Tania Bowers and other members of a Facebook group called Set The Whale Shark Free From The Atlantis Aquarium Dubai.

The hotel resort has said that the shark was found injured in shallow waters and was taken to the aquarium for observation.

But campaigners say the shark should now be released as it is a threatened species under the CITES agreement on trading of endangered species.

Ms Perry noted in her letter that the UAE is not in violation of CITES as the shark has not been traded to a third party.

However, she said that UAE legislation protects against the capture of sharks and accused Atlantis of ignoring phone calls from the WWF. “The information that we do receive is from personal sources and government officials,” she said.

And the WWF are not the only people getting the cold shoulder about the shark.

Despite repeated calls over a number of weeks to Atlantis by 7DAYS, asking for news on the shark’s release, staff repeatedly told us that the person dealing with this issue was not available.

A publicist at an external public relations company working for Atlantis also did not return our calls.

Meanwhile, a manager at Atlantis in charge of monitoring the whale shark directed the paper back to the media office.

The lack of communication and apparent lack of movement in releasing the shark is troubling many people.

Donna Ralph, who founded the ‘Set The Whale Shark Free’ Facebook group, said she had a meeting with an Atlantis manager in October but has not seen any progress since then.

“Its frustrating because people from all over the world are asking us about it and nothing at all has happened,” she said. “We have many people - from the US, from Cuba, from all over the world saying they want this shark released.”

Ms Ralph said that the hotel must head the advice of the UAE’s environment minister, who said in November that he wanted the whale shark released.

The Facebook campaign also has photographs of whale shark cuddly toys being sold at Atlantis.

Ms Ralph said she feared such merchandising would make the shark’s release even trickier since the hotel was generating extra revenue from its detention.

“How can they say they are releasing her if they are selling toys like this? But we are not going to give up,” Ralph said.

Her co-campaigner Tania Bowers said that the group did not want to disrespect Atlantis or the UAE, adding: “We want to cooperate with everyone. “That’s why we find it difficult to understand why the Atlantis is risking such negative publicity.”

A timeline of captivity

August 20, 2008
A 13-ft female whale shark is found by a fisherman while it is swimming in shallow waters near Dubai.

August 27, 2008
The shark is moved to the Atlantis hotel for ‘monitoring’. As the endangered whale shark is a filter feeder, it does not eat other fish and makes an excellent tourist attraction for the aquarium.

September 9, 2008
The Atlantis announces the shark is in the aquarium. 7DAYS reveals to the world the dubious circumstances surrounding its ‘temporary’ captivity.

September 11, 2008
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the world’s largest conservation network, confirms that whale sharks are listed as a threatened species and that the CITES treaty on endangered species prohibits their trade.

October 8, 2008
A local Facebook group opens a campaign to release the shark.
It goes on to attract more than 19,000 members

October 19, 2008
The UAE’s environment minister, Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, calls for the shark’s release

November 20, 2008
The Atlantis officially opens with a private party for 2,000 celebrities and a performance by Kylie Minogue

January 5, 2009
The world’s largest conservation group, The World Wildlife Fund, says the Atlantis is not returning its calls and will not discuss the shark’s release

More links

No comments:

Post a Comment

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails