A curious child stands in front of the floor-to-wall glass dividers and looks directly into the large blue fiberglass enclosure. An intimidating whitetip shark swims right in front of her and she instinctively takes a step back. But within minutes, she’s drawn closer by a school of blinding orange anemones with electric blue stripes. Once in a while, a manta ray puts on a show: turning around to show its gills on its underside. You would think it was a scene from an aquarium. Surprisingly, it’s a scene from a hotel lobby; the one that bears its name well: Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai.
What attracts visitors here are the residents – 65,000 marine animals – dolphins, sea lions, moon jellies, lobsters, blue damselfish, eagle rays, groupers, a variety of sharks and more. live in this hotel. A battery of staff – marine biologists, aquarists, veterinarians, divers, etc. – takes care of the gills and fins.
Like any big city, Atlantis has its own high-tech hospital. Visitors can sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Fish Hospital. It is equipped with waterproof ultrasound facilities, a pathology laboratory, a water analysis laboratory, portable X-ray machines, gigantic weighing scales, etc. Ichthyologists (marine biologists who study fish) and aquarists work together on the principle that ‘prevention is better than cure, therefore the diets of these residents are closely monitored.
An aquarist guide leads the tour and explains that the fish are only fed “restaurant grade food”. This means that food quality is tested before residents are served. And these inhabitants have quite the appetite: more than 450 kg of food are consumed every day, much of it flown in from other parts of the globe. On the menu, prawns, squid, anchovies and a variety of other small fish. What about the filling?
Unexpectedly, fish love garlic. Add some romaine lettuce (also on the menu) and it’s a seafood salad!
What is the first thing you do when you visit a medical clinic? You step on the scale. But how do you put a dolphin on a scale? Dolphin intelligence has been studied since the 1950s by researchers such as John Lilly who examined the vocalization abilities of bottlenose dolphins. Research by Herman et al in the 1980s proved that dolphins can understand sentences and thus follow verbal commands. Watch it unfold before you as an aquarist orders a dolphin to step onto a poolside scale.
Last year, Atlantis and the UAE Dolphin Project gathered critical data to support the study of the local dolphin population. A combined team invested nearly 300 hours and implemented 60 boat surveys covering nearly over 5,000 km. This brought together more than 11,000 images.
Visitors to the tour are also taken inside a fully equipped pathology laboratory, which performs scat tests regularly.
These scat tests offer invaluable clues about the gut microbiota of fish. Their intestine, similar to that of humans, plays a crucial role in several physiological functions. Based on the tests, a sick marine animal may be prescribed antibiotics, a change in diet, and close monitoring by an aquarist.
A detailed history is reached as an aquarist closely monitors the fish for signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, discoloration of the skin, etc. A thorough analysis of the water detects all the first signs of diseases that could spread from one to another, thus preventing pandemics. A large number of hospitalized patients are egg because the hospital often attends births. It is not uncommon for divers to find eggs which they bring to the safety of the hospital. An optimal environment and round-the-clock care are provided to ensure healthy offspring. In the case of species such as the near-threatened local Arabian carpet shark, this has led to excellent breeding programs. Once a healthy baby shark is born and strong enough to ward off predators, it is released back into local waters.
Did you know that stingrays are fiercely independent? A baby can fend for itself as soon as it comes into the world. Did you know that jellyfish have no brains or hearts? They have a basic set of nerves at the base of their tentacles that perform the vital functions necessary to keep them alive. These particular creatures predate the dinosaurs. Does the lack of heart (and brain) have something to do with their survival? To this, the tourist guide has no answer!
Seahorses are sea-loving birds
Seahorses are romantic creatures and you often spot them with their tails intertwined when in the throes of love. They were once thought to mate for life, but more recent research shows this may not be the case; long separations or the man’s declining health often lead to a breakup.