Dugong rescue operation in NSW

By Derek Dunlop 21 January 2016
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A young dugong recently found a long way from home in southern NSW is being relocated to Queensland after concerns over its health mounted.

A YOUNG MALE dugong that caused a buzz when it was spotted well outside its normal range in far-south NSW in November last year is currently being transported to Sea World in Queensland, where it will be rehabilitated before being released into Moreton Bay.

Believed to have ended up in Merimbula after getting mixed up in some warm currents, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) along with community volunteers have been monitoring the unexpected visitor’s health since its initial sighting in Merimbula Lake, about 460km south of Sydney, NSW.

Upon concerns of the animal’s health declining, experts from Sea World and Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium were brought in to decide what to do.     

“A series of larger lesions had formed on the animal, making us believe it had developed a case of ‘cold stress syndrome’, which is where the skin breaks down and becomes susceptible to bacteria,” explained Peter Windle of the NPWS. 

“There is no way it would have survived the winter if we left it there,” he said.

dugong merimbula

Marine mammal experts assess dugong’s condition prior to transport. (Image: Office of Environment and Heritage / Flickr).

Despite eluding capture on Wednesday this week, the dugong was successfully captured on Thursday morning by a team of marine mammal experts and checked over by veterinarians.

According to a statement from the NPWS: “[An] assessment of the animal’s health confirmed our concerns that its health had deteriorated and it had clearly lost weight and [developed] a skin condition.” 

After being deemed healthy enough for travel, the dugong which has since been named Merimbula after the southern NSW town, was loaded into an RAAF Hercules plane bound for his new temporary home at Sea World. The plane landed in Queensland at around 3.30pm on Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve been at the department a long time, and this is the first dugong relocation I’m aware of,” said Peter.

Merimbula is planned to spend around a month recovering at Sea World before being released into Moreton bay. Sea World has been working with the University of Queensland in monitoring the population of dugongs in Moreton bay, and they plan to place a satellite tag on Merimbula prior to release in order to monitor his movements and health upon his return to the wild.