Marine world: Home of 65,000 marine animals, inside Dubai's Atlantis The Palm hotel

A state-of-the-art fish hospital sits within a hotel in Dubai that caters to the needs of 65,000 permanent residents

author_img Kiran Mehta Published :  10th July 2022 07:14 PM   |   Published :   |  10th July 2022 07:14 PM
Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai.

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

A curious child stands before the floor-to-wall glass separators and peers right into the big blue fibre glass enclosure. An intimidating white-tip shark swims right past her and she instinctively takes a step back. But within minutes, she’s lured in closer by a school of anemones—blinding orange with electric blue stripes. Now and then, a manta ray puts up a show: flipping over to showcase its gills on the underside. You would think this was a scene from an aquarium. Surprisingly, this is a scene from a hotel lobby; one that’s aptly named—Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai.

What draws visitors here, are the residents—65,000 marine animals—dolphins, sea lions, moon jellies, lobsters, blue damsels, eagle rays, groupers, a variety of sharks and more. live in this hotel. A battery of staff members—marine biologists, aquarists, vets, divers, etc—cater to the gilled and the finned.
Much like any great city, Atlantis, comes with its own high-tech hospital. Visitors can sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour of the fish hospital. It comes equipped with water-resistant ultra-sound facilities, a pathology laboratory, a water analysis laboratory, portable X-ray machines, gigantic weighing scales, etc. The ichthyologists (marine biologists who study fish) and aquarists work together on the principle that ‘prevention is better than cure, therefore, the diet of these residents is monitored closely.

An aquarist guide leads the tour and explains that the fish are fed only ‘restaurant-grade food’. What that means is that the food is tested for quality before the residents are served. And these residents have quite an appetite: over 450 kg of food is consumed every day, much of it flown in from other parts of the globe. On the menu are shrimp, squid, anchovy, and a variety of other tiny fish. What about garnishing?

Unexpectedly, fish love garlic. Add a bit of romaine lettuce (also on the menu) and is a seafood salad!
What’s the first thing you do when visiting a doctor’s clinic? You step onto the weighing scale. But how do you get a dolphin onto a scale? Dolphin intelligence has been studied since the 1950s by researchers such as John Lilly who examined bottlenose dolphin vocalisation abilities. Research by Herman et al in the 1980s proved that dolphins can comprehend sentences and thereby follow verbal commands. Watch this play out before you as an aquarist commands a dolphin to step onto a weighing scale on the edge of the pool.

Last year, the Atlantis together with the UAE Dolphin Project collated critical data to support the study of the local dolphin population. A combined team has invested close to 300 hours, and implemented 60 boat surveys spanning close to over 5,000-odd km. This resulted in over 11,000 images being gathered.
Visitors on the tour are also led inside a fully-equipped pathology lab, that runs regular scat tests.
These scat tests offer invaluable clues into the gut microbiota of the fish. Their gut, 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 follows the fish for signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, colouring of skin etc. A thorough water analysis picks up any early signs of diseases that could spread from one to another, thereby preventing pandemics. A large number of the inpatients are eggs, as the hospital often witnesses births. It is not uncommon for divers to find eggs that they bring to the safety of the hospital. An optimal environment and round-the-clock care are provided to ensure a healthy offspring. In the case of species such as the near-threatened local Arabian Carpet Shark, this has led to excellent breeding programmes. Once a healthy baby shark is born, and is strong enough to stave off predators, it is released into the local waters.

Did you know that sting rays are ferociously independent? A baby can fend for itself as soon as it enters the world. Did you know that jellyfish have no brain or heart? They have a basic set of nerves at the base of their tentacles that performs the vital functions needed to keep them alive.These peculiar creatures predate dinosaurs. Does the lack of a heart (and brains) have something to do with their survival? To this, the tour guide has no answer! 

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