x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Atlantis shark tale gets extra bite in new book

Author celebrates first anniversary of release of whale shark from aquarium at Dubai's Atlantis Hotel by publishing book.

Anita Chainani with her book Let Me Out! at her Dubai residence.
Anita Chainani with her book Let Me Out! at her Dubai residence.

ABU DHABI // An author has celebrated the first anniversary of the release of a whale shark from the aquarium at Dubai's Atlantis Hotel by publishing a children's book inspired by its time in captivity.

Let Me Out! tells the story of a young whale shark, Niki, as she struggles to come to terms with being taken from her natural environment. Not a fan of her new-found fame, the shark plots her escape with help of her fellow underwater friends.

The story of a young whale shark became worldwide news after leading environmentalists, including Rashid Ahmad bin Fahad, the UAE Minister of Environment and Water, called for its immediate release. The shark was returned to the wild just over a year ago, after being kept at the aquarium for approximately 18 months.

Singaporean Anita Chainani, a former freelance writer and mother of three, was amazed to be able to see a whale shark at such proximity when she visited Atlantis for her 40th birthday. But she felt that for a five-star hotel to use it as a tourist attraction "wasn't very right".

It took Mrs Chainani two months to write the book, which has been illustrated by a member of her extended family, Rakhi Valrani. "At the time I went to Atlantis, in 2008, there was a lot of coverage in the newspapers about the shark," she said. "I did my research, and decided to get in touch with a couple of marine biologists when I was on holiday in Australia, not long after the idea came to me.

"One in particular, Dr Simon Pierce, was very helpful. The book was also proof-read by my children's English tutor, Ian Withers, and some of my friends."

But it was also not easy to get the book published, even though Mrs Chainani did it on her own. She needed to obtain a licence and the approval of the National Media Council. Despite the effort, she is already considering another controversial topic for her next children's book: the Dubai Zoo.

Mrs Chainani relied on her children for feedback during the writing process. "I asked them whether it should have a happy or sad ending," she said.

It is less clear what happened to the shark that inspired the book. After being tagged and released into the ocean by the fish husbandry team at Atlantis, its electronic tag came off after 33 days leaving its whereabouts unknown. It was common for such tags to detach, according to staff at the laboratory that mapped the shark's movements. Up until that point, the whale shark's swimming pattern appeared normal.

Let Me Out! is on sale at Borders in Dubai.

zalhassani@thenational.ae