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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Dugong: The Animal that Inspired Mermaid Tales Extinct in China

ZSL and the Chinese Academy of Science discovered that since 2000, scientists had not confirmed sightings

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

CHINA: In the survey, only three respondents from coastal Chinese towns reported having seen a dugong in the previous five years. Due to its leisurely, laid-back behaviour, the dugong, which is thought to be the most benign animal in the water, was probably more vulnerable to overfishing and shipping accidents. It is still in danger even though it still exists everywhere in the world.

The dugong’s probable extinction in China is a terrible loss, according to Prof. Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the study’s co-author.

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All historical information regarding the locations of dugongs previously discovered in China was examined by scientists from ZSL and the Chinese Academy of Science. They discovered that since 2000, scientists had not confirmed sightings.

The researchers also used citizen science to survey 788 community members in various coastal districts to find out when locals had last seen one. On average, locals said it had been 23 years since they had last seen a dugong. In the previous five years, just three people had witnessed one.

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According to Heidi Ma, a postdoctoral researcher at ZSL, this has caused the researchers to proclaim the dugong functionally extinct, which means “it is no longer viable… to sustain itself.”

Photo Credit: Twitter

A distinctive sea creature is a dugong. It is the only vegetarian marine mammal and weighs over half a tonne. Some people think that because it resembles the manatee in look and behaviour while being distinguished by a whale-like tail, it served as the model for the mermaids described in old maritime tales.

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Sadly, because of its habitat near the coast of China, it was prey to hunters who sought the animal for its skin, bones, and meat in the 20th century. The Chinese State Council designated dugongs as a grade-one national priority protected animal in 1988 due to a significant drop in population.

But scientists contend that a “rapid population decrease” has resulted from the habitat’s ongoing deterioration, particularly the absence of seagrass beds serving food.

According to the UN Environment Programme, 7% of seagrass habitat is lost each year globally due to climate change, unrestricted fishing, coastal development, and industrial and agricultural pollution.

The extinction of the dugong in China, according to Prof. Turvey, should serve as a cautionary tale to other dugong-habitat countries like Australia and East Africa. He called it “a sobering reminder that extinctions can occur before effective conservation actions are developed.”

The species is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species despite being found in 37 other tropical parts of the world, particularly the shallow coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.

A new UN marine treaty, which would safeguard 30% of the world’s oceans, is now being signed by nations in New York.

“The dugong is a terrible illustration of what is happening to the marine ecosystem where there is increasing encroachment of human activity,” Kristina Gjerde, high-seas policy adviser for the IUCN, told the BBC.

What caused Dugongs to be confused with Mermaids?

The mermaid myth is said to have originated from the dugong, a marine mammal species from the order Sirenia, which is known to attract female-starved sailors.

Due to their curved shape and armpit-based mammary glands, female dugongs may have been a factor in some of the reported mermaid sightings.

Also Read: India to Focus on Local Birds and Animals in Zoos as Priority Species for Conservation


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