Sad news from the Waisai (the capital of Raja Ampat) yesterday evening 23.1.22; an adult dugong, found deceased, close to the public waterfront. Cause of death seemingly boat strike, based on the x2 propeller cuts on the animal’s neck.
Wounds consistent with propeller strike. Likely cause of death. Photo credit: Rudy Dimara
Dugongs (dugong dugon) are the most beautiful creatures; shy, gentle, elusive, are found in warm coastal waters from the western Pacific Ocean, throughout SE Asia, through to the Eastern coast of Africa, usually inhabiting shallow protected areas with access to their favourite food – sea grass! Growing up to a length of 4m and weighing between 250-500kg, dugongs can live up to 70yrs of age. Although they resemble cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) dugongs are believed to be descendants of land mammals.. making them more closely related to elephants than whales.
It is a rare and special moment to see a dugong in Raja Ampat, even though there are some areas that are known for more frequent sightings, it is still only an occasional. We recently had the privilege of seeing two of these beautiful creatures, resting on the surface of the water and diving the moment they became aware of us, and it saddens us greatly to see these images just a few short days later.
Dugong – Vulnerable to Extinction
The Dugong is listed as Vulnerable, with population decreasing, on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. These days, dugongs are typically represented by diminished remnant populations, many of which are close to extinction.
The long lifespan of a dugong (of 70 years or more), combined with their slow rate of reproduction (maturity at 6yrs old, followed by 1 calf every 2.5-7yrs) makes them particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances. Worldwide, populations have suffered overexploitation primarily due to direct capture for its meat, hide and oil, and also because of habitat loss (silting of sea grass beds). The most significant threat to Dugongs is fatalities caused by gill nets, which entangle them as bycatch. Other threats include pollution, boat traffic and illegal hunting.
A listing on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibits or limits the trade of this species or its parts. However, despite having legal protection in many countries, the Dugong remains extremely vulnerable to continued human pressure and applying conservation policy to legally address gill netting regulations is urgently needed.
In Raja Ampat, the greatest threat to dugong is habitat loss, coastal development, and of course, boat strike.
Dugongs are a Protected Species
In the Raja Ampat Regency, all species of marine mammals are protected; including all species of whale, dolphin and dugong.
Additionally, Dugongs are a protected species under Indonesian law (Law No. 7 (1999) concerning the Conservation of Flora and Fauna) and possession of their body parts, even after a natural death, is a crime.