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Operation Dugong Rescue

  • Friday 22nd January 2016
  • Dugong

Pig Toy

Following an intensive two-day operation, marine experts from SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium have helped successfully rescue an injured dugong from Merimbula Lake, amid growing concerns for the animal's welfare.

Joining forces with local authorities and veterinary specialists for the delicate rescue, it was a race against time to safely relocate the marine mammal, due to unfavourable local water conditions, limited sea grass supplies and its deteriorating health.

Now affectionately known as 'Merimbula' after its rescue location, the 350 kilogram male dugong is estimated to be at least 15 years old and was originally spotted in November last year and is one of only three dugongs sighted in that area in the last 20 years.

With the help of New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) and Sea World, the specialist rescue team safely secured Merimbula, where veterinary experts gave the precious animal a thorough health checkup, before giving it the all clear to be transported to the Gold Coast via a RAAF Hercules, on loan from the Australian Defence Force.

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium Marine Mammal Supervisor and dugong expert, Andrew Barnes, said if Merimbula had of stayed in the area, there was no way he could of survived.

"At this stage, it looks like Merimbula has moved south in the warmer waters of the Eastern Australian current and has found itself somewhat stranded in the area, in much cooler temperatures than he would be used to," said Mr Barnes.

"Dugongs thrive in warm water, however, swimming in cooler waters has had a negative impact on his health, evidenced in his poor skin condition and significant weight loss. To give Merimbula a second chance at life, we made the decision to relocate him to Queensland where his health will be better assessed before being rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild."

Staff from SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium have been heavily involved in the entirety of Merimbula's rescue, including providing expert advice to NPWS when Merimbula was first sighted three months ago and regularly monitoring him for signs of stress, eating habits and any health concerns.

Merimbula is currently being cared for by staff from both SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and Sea World on the Gold Coast, in the attraction's back-of-house quarantine area and when healthy enough, will be released into Moreton Bay in Queensland.

Currently listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild, dugongs face a number of threats in the wild, including boat strikes and loss of sea grass habitats, the only food source for the marine mammal.

Home to the only pair of rescued dugongs on display in the world, Pig and Wuru serve as ambassadors for SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium's BREED, RESCUE, PROTECT initiatives and aim to educate the public on their important place in the ecosystem.