DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Environmentalists renewed their call Sunday for a marine-themed luxury Dubai resort to release a whale shark on display inside the hotel's giant fish tank.
Wildlife activists and environmentalists claim the managers of the $1.5 billion Atlantis hotel are endangering the life of the whale shark, which is listed as a threatened species, by keeping it in the massive resort's open-air aquarium along with 65,000 fish, stingrays and other sea creatures.
"The risk to the animal being held is greater than if the animal is released," Lisa Perry of the Emirates Wildlife Society/World Wild Fund told The Associated Press. Releasing the 13-foot long female whale shark back into the wild "is the right thing to do for Atlantis and for the animal," she said.
Representatives of Atlantis resort, which is located on a artificial island built in the shape of a palm tree, were not immediately available for comment Sunday. They have said they rescued the whale shark in August after it swam into the shallow waters of this city-state's Gulf coast.
Activists commended the hotel for nurturing the fish back to health but urged its managers not to turn the animal into a pet. Keeping the whale shark to attract tourists has jeopardized its chances for a long life in the open sea, environmentalists said.
"Holding a whale shark in a constraining artificial environment where it is unable to feed ... and has a limited area to move can have fatal consequences," the activists wrote in a letter to the hotel's management. The letter was sent to the local media earlier this week.
Whale sharks — the world's largest fish species — are listed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the world's largest conservation network.
Considered harmless, the whale shark can live up to 100 years and can grow to 46-feet long. It is normally found in parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The environmentalists did not give a precise age for the whale shark at the Atlantis but say she is a juvenile.
"Taking a potential breeder ... from the wild, takes not only one whale shark from an already weakened whale shark population, but also the possible offspring she could produce," the letter said.
This is not the first environmental controversy that has plagued the Atlantis resort in Dubai. In 2007, activists protested the sale of dolphins from the Solomon Islands to Dubai. The mammals were transported 30 hours by plane from the South Pacific to a man-made lagoon, where hotel guests can swim with them.
Atlantis opened for guests in September. The resort's developers threw a $20 million party that included Hollywood celebrities for its official opening in November.