Whale shark seen swimming in Abu Dhabi marina

Employees at the hotel first noticed the fish at 1:45pm Friday and quickly took a video and photos to capture the rare sighting.

This four-metre-long whale shark drew onlookers at the marina near the InterContinental hotel in Abu Dhabi. Coastguards tried to redirect it to the exit. Irene García León for The National
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ABU DHABI // A whale shark between three and four metres long has been seen swimming in the marina at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi.

Employees at the hotel first noticed the fish at 1.45pm on Friday and quickly took a video and photos to capture the rare sighting.

A brief video of the visit was posted on the hotel’s Instagram account and showed the large whale shark slow moving just below the surface of the clear water, its white spots striking against its dark grey body.

“It’s just beautiful,” said Reema Baroudi, the hotel’s director of public relations. “It’s a lovely, lovely creature — magnificent, so majestic. It’s an exciting thing to have around and we just wanted to make sure that it’s safe and that it goes back home.”

Dr Rima Jabado, a scientist with Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, said that whale sharks are plankton eaters and are harmless to humans. It is common for them to swim up to local marinas, she said. “They are considered vulnerable, they’re not endangered but because they’re sharks and sharks are threatened pretty much around the world, it’s important to make sure that everything is OK.

“We’re not sure why, they might come in to feed, they might just come in because they are just swimming and end up there, so we don’t really know, but they usually stay a couple of days and then they continue on their way,” said Dr Jabado.

After a short time, the whale shark disappeared from the surface, leading employees to believe it had returned to the deep sea.

“I would say it stayed around for around half an hour,” said Ms Baroudi. “It was very calm, very peaceful.”

But early yesterday afternoon, the marine visitor returned to the marina once again for a longer visit, prompting the hotel to enlist the assistance of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

“We’re trying to protect him from the boats coming in and out,” said Ms Baroudi. “And we are trying to protect him from people coming next to him.”

The marina is about eight metres deep and holds about 170 boats. While it is surrounded by the hotel’s restaurants, Ms Baroudi said the fish has not drawn big crowds because the hotel’s security have been given strict instructions to forbid the public from getting close to it.

“It seems to be happy and it’s enjoying the warm water and the sun,” said Ms Baroudi.

In the nine years that she has worked at the hotel, Ms Baroudi said this is the first time a whale shark has been seen so close to the property.

“Every once in a while, if you go out on the boats, you can see the dolphins swimming around, they don’t come into the marina, but they’re very close to the hotel,” said Ms Baroudi. “We have the regular fish every now and then, but nothing really exciting — not like this. This is the most exciting thing that we’ve seen.”

In November, a baby whale shark was spotted off the coast of Al Raha beach. In another instance, a full grown whale shark was seen Dubai Marina in August.