Dubai: On the crescent of The Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis Dubai stands tall. There are no guests now, but inside the property, its 65,000 marine animals are having a special time.
In the absence of guests, the animals are loving their free time with their caregivers. The marine mammal specialists, who maintain their habitats and clean and feed them daily at the Lost Chambers Aquarium, the Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point, the Ambassador Lagoon and Shark Lagoon, are now teaching them some new skills and fostering stronger bonds.
There is Butterlily, the hotel’s most mischievous dolphin and Juna, one of the fur seals, a very posh individual! These fantastic animals make every day at work an absolute joy for the caregivers. Some of them have unique characterists – such as the inseparable dolphins, Michael and Maui, who always go for training together.
Physical and mental stimulation
Fabio Silveria, Director of Marine Mammals, at Atlantis The Palm says, “Every day we ensure that the Marine Mammal Specialists, together with our veterinary team, thoroughly check all our marine mammals. We monitor the health of our animals closely. Physical and mental stimulation sessions are also a vital part of our daily routine to ensure animal welfare.”
There are different species at The Lost Chambers Aquarium, both fresh and salt water. Taking care of the jellyfish for example, is a time consuming process, says Natasha Christie, Director of The Lost Chambers. “Every day we culture live plankton which makes up their diet. Our aquarists use this plankton to feed the jellyfish that are on display in our exhibits. There is also the target feeding of our rays, sharks, morays and groupers. This means that we prepare food for individual animals and ‘target’ them.”
Strong bond and trust
These days, the relationship between the trainers and the animals has become more robust. Silveria says, “It is impressive to see the strong bond between the animals and their trainers and keepers. You see them voluntarily participate in the medical programmes.” There is Rufus, a very shy fur seal, who has today formed a strong bond with his trainer and and has developed more confidence.
The marine mammals are usually fed capelin, herring, smelt, and squid, amongst other species of fish, says Christie. “Our feeding times continue according to our regular weekly schedule. The only difference at the moment is that we are not conducting any feeds for the public to see, but the feeds themselves still continue. We feed around 350-400-kg of food per day, which ranges from frozen plankton food to blue runner jacks. We have different dietary requirement for all animals that range in size, from the smallest jellyfish polyps to the largest black tip shark in the Ambassador Lagoon. It is important that we maintain a well-balanced diet for the animals, despite the current situation.”
But do the animals understand that something is amiss? “For sure,” says Silveria. “The animals love to interact with our guests and not having them around creates a big hole in their daily routine. Therefore, we provide plenty of enrichment sessions while also teaching them new behaviours to maintain their physical and mental welfare.” The dolphins, particularly, are used to having the guests swim with them. They love children, says Silveria. So now when they have more free time, we’re trying to fill those gaps by teaching them new skills and keeping them active.
A typical day at the Atlantic The Palm now starts with a physical examination of all the animals. The next five sessions are focused on enrichment, new learning and physical activity. The animals are also allowed enough time alone as a group to develop an intra- species appropriate and naturalistic behaviour.
“The animals are enjoying their routine schedule, varied diet, and they are interacting with other species around them. Excitingly, we are still seeing lots of mating activity -- the most recent being from our clear nose guitar shark -- and we have recently had successful births of Arabian carpet sharks, eagle rays and honeycomb stingrays. The babies are currently being cared for by our aquarist team in our fish hospital, and we look forward to receiving guests again so they can observe them in our Fish Tale tours,” says Christie.