Merimbula’s dugong: marine vets concerned, PHOTOS

The dugong has avoided capture and swum out to sea.

The dugong has avoided capture and swum out to sea.

UPDATE: 15.50pm 

The dugong avoided all attempts at capture and swum through the Merimbula channel and out to sea. 

Marine vets and staff from Sea Life and Sea World followed the dugong along the channel in the hopes to capture it before it reached the ocean. 

Hercules aircraft has landed at Merimbula airport to transport the dugong.

Hercules aircraft has landed at Merimbula airport to transport the dugong.

Onlookers in boats, kayaks and on stand up paddle boards were all close-by yelling out to the crews to inform them whenever the dugong broke the surface.

But it was to no avail and the dugong managed to bypass everyone. 

Crews remain ready at the Merimbula Lake entrance should the dugong return to the Merimbula Lake. 

Peter Windle of NPWS said there may be more attempts to capture the creature later today but if not crews would most likely reconvene tomorrow morning. 

UPDATE: 12.30pm

The dugong has avoided capture and has swum under the causeway and into Merimbula Lake. Marine vets are following it.

There was an earlier attempt to capture it with people in the water with nets but the dugong avoided them.

Hundreds of people are watching and as the dugong went under the causeway, traffic was brought to a halt as the crowd rushed across the road to watch.

A RAAF Hercules aircraft has landed at Merimbula airport to transport the dugong once it is captured.

Marine vets from Sea Life, Sea World, NPWS staff, water police and ORRCA (Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia), have been on standby since early this morning (Wednesday, January 20) in an attempt to rescue the Merimbula dugong, whose health is deteriorating.

A briefing meeting was held at 7.30am at the waterside and the vets have been monitoring the mammal hoping to capture it when it moves into shallow water.

It is currently swimming in the deeper channel in Top Lake.

Vets plan to conduct of thorough check of the dugong as soon as it is out of the water. They have a tank on site and hope to transport the dugong by plane to Queensland.

NPWS staff have been monitoring the dugong since first sighted and said that it is not doing well. Shona Lorigan, of ORRCA said it had skin diseases, and that its backbone was more prominent. She added that the animal was stressed and that everyone is attempting to handle it as gently as possible.

“This is a very stressful thing we are going to do to the animal and we want to minimise the stress as much as possible,” she said.

The experts hope that if the dugong comes closer to the shore in shallow water, the most stressful part of the process, the transfer, will be minimised.

The dugong is a long way from its normal habitat and the warmer waters of Queensland that it needs.

Peter Windle of NPWS was blunt in his assessment of the dugong’s future if it stays in Merimbula.

“There is absolutely no way it will survive through winter and if we leave it here it will die.”

There has been a kayaker with the dugong all morning. The dugong tends to follow the tides each day has not done so this morning. 

Specialist marine mammal vets from Sea World and Sea Life (Sydney Aquarium) travelled to Merimbula last Thursday to assess the dugong and believe that its condition is continuing to deteriorate while it remains in the lake. 

A recent health assessment by specialist veterinarians identified that the dugong was in a poor condition due to weight loss evidenced in the dorsal surface and deteriorated skin condition. With cooler waters forecast and lack of suitable sea grass it is expected the dugong’s health will continue to deteriorate.

The welfare and wellbeing of the dugong is the team’s highest priority, a spokesman said.

Sea World has a long history of working with dugongs and for the last eight years has conducted health assessment surveys on the dugong population in Moreton Bay with the University of Queensland and Sea Life Sydney Aquarium.

It is thought that the dugong was swept south on warmer ocean currents.

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