Dubai Aquarium – the third largest in the world – boasts plenty of impressive attractions (sharks, penguins and some huge crabs, to name but a few), although there are a few species whose gawking potential hasn’t been realised under the daytime spotlights. It’s for that reason the management introduced the night safari in January, allowing guests the chance to see how both the reptiles and sea creatures behave after the lights go out. This week is your last chance to see the animals with the lights off, with the final night safari taking place on Wednesday February 29. According to the aquarium’s general manager, 40-year-old Aussie Gordon White, there are exciting plans afoot for April and May, but logistics are still being examined so he isn’t at liberty to give the game away.
Having visited the aquarium several times before since it opened in November 2008, this is the first time I’ve stepped inside with the lights dimmed – though it should be pointed out this is only the case in the Underwater Zoo on the second floor of the mall, and not in the main tank, where the lights are most definitely on and it’s business as usual for a gang of sand tigers. Admittedly the scene doesn’t feel a whole lot darker than it does by day at first. Yet as we wander through, certain species suddenly seem to stand out more – particularly the neon tetra fish, which look translucent in the daylight, but now appear to glow furiously in the dark.
It’s the first time we’ve tried the Underwater Zoo tour with a commentary, and we’re grateful for the interesting facts and titbits our Egyptian guide, Karim, offers as we wander through the freshwater and saltwater displays. In the former, the otters and their neighbours, the giant water rats, are more active than we’ve previously seen them, though the toothy piranhas appear as eerily still as ever.
One of the more interactive elements of the tour sees Karim press a small piece of fish food into our fingers, instructing us to hold it over one of the tanks. It’s not long before we start getting hit in the face by small jets of water, and it becomes clear why the archerfish are so named – they shoot water to knock food closer to them.
As we move into the ‘living ocean’ display, we spot sea jellies floating luminously in small tanks – we’re intrigued to learn that they have no brain, and everything they do, such as sleeping and mating, all happens by chance. Nearby, however, lies what we’re convinced is the creepiest collection of them all, and a lack of light only serves to make them look more intimidating. The giant spider crabs stalk slowly through the water in a large tank, like something out of a horror film. At less than two feet tall, they’re shudder-inducing enough, but the imagery is more than we can bear when Karim reveals some of these crabs can grow to the size
of a Mini car.
We round off the tour by heading through the tunnel in the main tank on the ground floor. Though it’s as bright as ever here, we’re still picking up facts when Karim points out the guitar fish resting above us – the missing link between sharks and rays.
Attend the night safari while you can. In the meantime, the only hint White gives is that April’s plans have ‘some real teeth’. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether he’s speaking metaphorically.
The Night Safari at Dubai Aquarium runs until Wednesday February 29. Tickets from Dhs50 per person. Headlamps Dhs10 Sun-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Dubai Aquarium, The Dubai Mall (04 448 5200), www.timeouttickets.com