Baby Dugongs Netted by Fishermen in Maluku, These are Four Steps to Handling According to Experts

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Maluku Province is one of the migration areas and habitat for marine mammals, such as dugongs and whales. This was proven by the incident of a baby dugong or dugong ( Dugong dugon ) caught in a fisherman’s net, in the Kei Kecil conservation waters, Southeast Maluku Regency, Maluku, last Thursday (20/7/2023).

The incident was immediately reported to the relevant parties for follow-up, considering that the baby dugong was still alive, so it had to be released to find its mother.

After consulting with the Maluku Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Service (DKP), the Southeast Maluku Fisheries Service, and the Tual Resort BKSDA, the baby dugong was then released back to the spot where it was caught in the fishing nets.

Hero Ohoiulun, a Maluku conservation activist, said that the actions of fishermen reporting incidents of bycatch to the authorities should be appreciated as a form of community awareness and participation in preserving nature. This is also an indicator of the success of the marine biota conservation outreach program so far.

He said, through intense and consistent outreach the Sorong Coastal and Marine Resource Management Workshop (LPSPL) Ambon Satker Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (KKP), Maluku Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) Tual Resort, Branch Office of the VIII Island Cluster Service Kei Islands Maritime and Maluku Fisheries (DKP), Southeast Maluku DKP, religious leaders, traditional leaders and community leaders, marine habitats and ecosystems in the region are starting to be well maintained.

The location for releasing the baby dugongs is a regional conservation area (KKD) Kei Kecil, the first marine conservation area in Maluku Province with an estimated area of ​​150,000 hectares, with the main conservation target protecting the leatherback turtle ( Dermochelys coriacea ) foraging habitat.

He hopes that fishermen or residents who find dugong puppies stuck in fishermen’s nets should be released immediately, so that the mammals can meet their mother soon. If the condition is weak, immediately contact the relevant agency so that it is handled further.

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Dwi Suprati, a veterinarian from IAM Flying Vet (Indonesian association of aquatic megafauna veterinarians) said that caring for baby dugongs is very difficult, because their chances of survival are very small. This means that dugong babies need intensive intake of their mother’s milk.

According to him, there are four steps that need to be taken in handling baby dugongs that are stranded or separated from their mothers. First, efforts to search for the mother dugong use drones or gather information from fishermen around the waters regarding the possibility of encountering the mother.

While looking for its mother, baby mermaids need to be rehabilitated and given non-lactose milk eight times a day, which of course is given every 3 hours.

Second, if the parents are not found within a week, then the second option can be tested by looking for adoptive parents, namely dugongs in the surrounding waters that are found with their children. “The baby can be tried on to be brought closer to the adopted mother,” he told Mongabay Indonesia, Wednesday (26/7/2023).

Third, preparing foster parents for baby dugongs for two years or until they are 150 cm in size, such as institutions that are willing to fund and care intensively during the breastfeeding period until they are able to find food on their own and are ready to be released again.

If the third option cannot be done, then it must be released with the condition that the baby dugong is healthy, active and released in a safe location so that it can meet its mother or the presence of other dugongs.

“Well, if available too, it should be equipped with satellite telemetry to monitor its movements, to find out whether the baby dugong can survive , if it shows signs of weak movement or stranded again then it can be immediately monitored at that location,” he explained Again.

However, if it dies, it can be known how long the baby dugong can survive alone without its mother, which will become new knowledge and learning material for further handling.

According to him, there are several factors that cause marine mammals such as dugongs to be stranded on the coast, such as being trapped in shallow waters or at low tide, suffering from an illness so that their condition becomes unstable, being chased by predators, being caught accidentally (bycatch) by fishing gear, and being hit by fish boat.

In addition, it can be due to marine pollution which causes dugongs to experience toxicity, extreme weather factors, algae blooms which sometimes cause poisoning, underwater noise and also seafloor earthquakes.

Outreach and Veterinarians

Prehadi, an employee of the Sorong PSPL Loka, revealed that his party routinely socializes the conservation of protected marine animals including dugongs, including educating living and dead stranded marine mammals to coastal communities in eastern Indonesia.

They also coordinate technical recommendations, disseminate information to related parties and marine mammal networks in remote locations, as well as direct handling by the Sorong PSPL Workshop rapid response team.

Baby Dugong Stranded in Sikka, How to Handle?

Maulo’o Village, Mbengu Village, Paga District, Sikka Regency, NTT Province, was shocked by the stranding of a Dugong ( Dugong dugon ) Monday (17/4) afternoon. This small dugong has washed up several times on the coast of Kelilo’o.

Aty Making, a resident of Mbengu Village, explained that residents found the Dugong stranded on Kelilo’o Beach, Tuesday (12/4/2022). Aty took pictures and video of the baby dugong and gave it to media friends so that the authorities could take care of it.

Aty suspected that the baby dugong was separated from its mother. One of the residents took the initiative to take him into the deep sea by boat and then released him. But after some time, the baby dugong returned to the same beach.

He admitted that Monday (18/4/2022) the baby dugong was taken back to the sea but on Tuesday (19/4/2022) the dugong returned to the coast which happened to be not far from his house.

Residents began to know a lot about it and came to the location. In fact, many are curious to see the dugong and make it a spectacle and photo object.

After receiving the information, Mongabay Indonesia contacted the staff of the Maumere Region IV Conservation Section, NTT BBKSDA, Bram Conterius. Quick response was taken by deploying a team to the location.

Even so, Bram said, the residents had returned the baby dugong to the sea. If the baby dugong returns to the coast, his party will return to the location and carry out further handling.

Regardless of Parent

Lecturer at the Faculty of Fisheries at Nusa Nipa University (Unipa) Maumere Yohanes Don Bosco Ricardson Minggo, S.Pi, M.Sc. to Mongabay Indonesia, Tuesday (19/4/2022) explained that dugongs are part of the sirenia order with the dugongidae family. Dugong lives in clusters.

Bosco, as he is called, explained that the dugongs found by the community in Maulo’o were baby dugongs that were only 1-2 years old. The dugong cub that was found was probably separated from its mother.

“Dugongs between one and two years old are extremely reliant on breast milk. Dugong cubs always swim close to their mother because they feel protected when things are dangerous,” he said.

Bosco added, the baby dugong was stranded firstly because it was injured and secondly due to  loss of control  or being separated from the group or its mother so it was confusing to return.

He continued, if the dugong is still swimming in the sea then the stress level is likely not high, but if it is stranded on the sand then the stress level is high and can cause death if not treated immediately.

“It is possible that the baby dugongs were stressed and injured, so they were confused about where to go when they were returned. There needs to be temporary captivity on the coast, treated until the wound heals and then returned,” he said.

According to him, dugongs are a protected species based on PP No.7 of 1999 concerning the preservation of plant and animal species, the Fisheries Law No.45 of 2009, Minister of Environment and Forestry Regulation P.106/MENLHK/Setjen/KUM 1/12/2018 and CITES.

He added, dugongs are herbivorous animals with their habitat in seagrass beds. The types of seagrass consumed by dugongs are from the genera halodule, halophila and cymodecea.

Lecturer at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Udayana University, Windia Adnyana in a paper entitled Initial Study of the Temporal and Spatial Distribution of Dugong Stranding in Indonesia presented at the National Symposium on Dugong and Seagrass Habitat in Bogor April 20-21 2016, explained that her team analyzed 28 dugong stranding records compiled from 2009 to early 2016.

From these records it is clear that Windia, it is known that dugong strandings occur more frequently during the westerly wind season (October – April) compared to the east monsoon period (April – October).

In the context of location, occurrence was reported in eight marine ecoregions in Indonesia, with the highest frequency in the Sulawesi Sea/Makassar Strait ecoregions (7 cases), then the Lesser Sundas (5 cases), and Papua (4 cases).

Most of the dugongs (17 cases, 60.71%) were found dead and decomposed when they were stranded. This early study indicated that bad weather was an important risk factor for dugong stranding.

Windia explained that reports of stranding dugongs varied from one to six cases per year. Most reports (6 cases) were recorded in 2011, 5 cases each in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, 3 cases in 2009, and 1 case in 2010 and 2013.

He mentioned, dugongs could be stranded dead (17 cases) or still alive (14 cases). In the context of spatial distribution, dugong strandings were reported in 27 locations in 18 provinces and 8 out of 12 marine ecoregions in Indonesia.

He continued, generally stranding incidents of dugongs only occurred once per location (at the district level), except in the Selayar Islands (3 cases), and 2 cases each in South Minahasa Regency, Tanjung Benoa Badung Regency and Bintan Regency.

In the context of temporal distribution, it is known that the occurrence occurs almost throughout the year, except in June and July. The incidence fluctuated with the number of cases ranging from 1 – 6 cases per month.

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