Dive with the sharks or dance with the dolphins – at the spectacular water worlds of Dubai, legend and adventure come together for a unique holiday, says Sarah Lane
I had probably watched too many shows and documentaries on sharks on TV and binge-watched the entire Jaws (movie) franchise, because I was overcome by a sense of trepidation. I was minutes away from getting up close and personal with stingrays and sharks, and I could feel my excitement from a few hours ago, slowly turn into numbness.
My instructor took me through the diving guidelines for the third time (generally guests dive after the first), but I was still not ready. I clamped my teeth down on the breathing apparatus of my scuba gear and put my head inside the blue water, watching the exciting world filled with shoals of swimming fish unfold like a three-dimensional movie. But fear still lurked. Then, my guide pointed out a lean and long marine animal, swaying gently as it swam through the water, with a hypnotising, majestic gait. “It’s the blacktip reef shark, one of the most popular animals here,” he said. And I dived, moving slowly but steadily as close as possible to the beautiful animal. I was at the Ambassador Lagoon in the Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis the Palm in Dubai, and the dive was my joyride of the day.
Two of the most important rules to adhere to when swimming with sharks, or any marine animal, are to not panic and not try touching them. I came face to face with a bowmouth guitar shark (Rhynchobatus djiddensis) and it seemed quite friendly as it glided past. The whitetip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus), on the other hand, looked reassuringly nonchalant as they lay almost motionless. There are many different species of stingrays here, which are a favourite with guests as well. Rays are among the oldest surviving groups of jawed vertebrates, first appearing in the fossil record about 150 million years ago. The Ambassador Lagoon is a one-million-litre marine habitat and is said to be one of the 10 largest aquariums in the world. Along with the Lost Chambers Aquarium, the lagoon is home to approximately 65,000 species of marine animals.
As I dived deeper, nearing the bottom of the aquarium, my guide hovering close, I was lost in the legends of the island of Atlantis, recreated in this aquarium. Atlantis is mentioned in Timaeus and Critias, two of the most famous works by Greek philosopher Plato in the 4th century BC, that also talk about how the city disappeared mysteriously in the sea! As I swam around the sunlit water, colourful schools of fish swarmed around me, with an occasional shark passing by. They didn’t bother humans, I realised. And we shouldn’t bother them, either.