Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Sammy, the whale shark that had been held in captivity in the Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah aquarium for the past eighteen months, is freed.

The release comes almost a year after a popular Gulf News led campaign had thousands of Dubai residents calling for the hotel to release Sammy.

The campaign involved badges, bumper stickers, jingles and a Facebook group that attracted several thousand members.

Atlantis issued a press release stating that the mammal had already been released.

"After several months of planning, Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai has returned a female whale shark to the waters of the Arabian Gulf from where she was rescued. The Atlantis Fish Husbandry Team utilised their experience and skill to save the animal in compliance with all CITIES regulations."

Whale sharks are listed in appendix 2 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which stipulates that they can only be held for scientific purposes provided that it does not harm the survival of the species.

A UAE delegation is attending the CITES conference currently taking place in Doha.

Earlier, Ali Bin Saqr Al Suwaidi, president and founder of the Emirates Marine Environment Group [EMEG] had confirmed that the whale shark was set to be released.

“An animal of this size cannot be kept in captivity for such a long time,” he said.

The animal was being transported in a boat carrying a sufficient amount of water to allow Sammy to swim.

According to Atlantis, the hotel had been “preparing the animal for return to the ocean” during the time that it was being held.

“The seasonal elements affecting water temperature, salinity and migratory patterns were perfect for enhancing her survival in the open ocean,” said the hotel.

Environmentalists had been appalled when Sammy was first captured because it is a female and a juvenile.

Whale sharks are categorized as “vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species.

Al Suwaidi said that EMEG had increasingly been campaigning for Sammy’s release during the past few months.

"We will continue to track her progress through a tagging programme co-developed with The Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida (the world’s largest scientific research organization dedicated to the study of sharks and their relatives)," said Steve Kaiser, Vice President, Marine and Science Engineering.

“This will give us the opportunity to continue to learn from her and share that research within the whale shark community.”