Orphaned baby dugong becomes face of Thai sea conservation (Video)

A young dugong named Mariam cuddles with marine conservation photographer back in June. Photo: Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Facebook
A young dugong named Mariam cuddles with marine conservation photographer back in June. Photo: Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Facebook

With her little blubbery face, an orphaned baby dugong rescued from likely death has become the new face of sea conservation.

Mariam, as she was dubbed by fishers who found her ailing and alone, was declared ambassador for Saturday’s World Oceans Day in the hope her plight would highlight the need to save some 300 remaining dugongs in Thai waters from extinction and raise awareness about protecting the sea and other creatures who call it home.

“I want Mariam to be like the door to seeing the importance of conservation work and other environmental efforts as well,” Sirachai “Shin” Arunrugstichai, the marine photographer whose photographs of Mariam went viral, told Facebook page Bottom Line Is on Saturday.

Though Mariam was first spotted off the coast of Krabi in late April, it was a drone-shot photo of a volunteer cuddling her and published in National Geographic Thailand last week, that propelled Mariam to fame.

Photo: Hannaret Hripai and Srichai Anuraktichai
Photo: Hannaret Hripai and Srichai Anuraktichai

Ever since, the cuddly cousin to the manatee has been gradually blowing up social media.

The dugong is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which means it is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

In Thailand, there are only 300 of these creatures left due to depleting food sources, overtourism, plastic pollution and overfishing. The vegetarian sea cows are often cut to pieces by boat propellers as they like to drift and float in the currents looking for food, if fishing nets don’t get them first.

“The primary threat of Dugong is getting incidentally killed from entanglement from fishing gear, boat strikes and destruction of their seagrass habitat,” Srichai told Coconuts Bangkok on Monday

People first spotted the 1-year-old dugong on April 29 in Ao Thung Bay. Though officials returned her to sea twice, she kept swimming back to shore and was seen latching her fins onto boats to swim beside – a behavior which officials said is likely because she wasn’t weaned from her mother and is using the boats as a substitute.

Mariam swimming close to a boat. Photo: Srichai Anuraktichai
Mariam swimming close to a boat. Photo: Srichai Anuraktichai

Before she could become more propeller chow, officials relocated her to Point Dugong, a conservation and sightseeing area on Trang province’s Koh Libong, where she will receive around-the-clock care. The baby dugong still needs mother’s milk and has no experience living in the ocean alone.

It’s unknown what happened to momma dugong.

Officials including Marine Department veterinarian Watchara Sakornwimon were filmed taking care of the baby at all hours of the night, such as when Mariam was awakened by low tide at 2am on June 3.

“Mariam is our hope for cooperation for the conservation of the Thai sea,” the Marine and Coastal Resources Department captioned a video shot by Siracha.

Check out the video:

Veterinarians weigh Mariam on June 3. Photo: Thai Wales/ Facebook
Veterinarians weigh Mariam on June 3. Photo: Thai Wales/ Facebook

Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified the man in the drone photo as the photographer Srichai Anuraktichai when it was actually a volunteer from the Koh Libong based “Save Dugong team.” 

Dugong-related stories:

Protected sea cow drowned and killed by octopus trap

Last dugong in Gulf of Thailand found dead

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One thought on “Orphaned baby dugong becomes face of Thai sea conservation (Video)

  1. The Thai people are suckers for an “ooooo-ah!” story about anything cute, but their concerns are superficial………. one of the last dugongs in Rayong was eaten.
    The truth is the authorities neither understand nor care about wildlife and conservation and like tigers, pangolins and orangutans these graceful harmless creatures are doomed under their watch. THAILAND should hang its head in shame.

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