Rare giant sea mammal found dead in Pate Island

A researcher swimming with a Dugong off the Persian Gulf in 2016. A 6.5 metres Dugong has been found dead in Pate Island PHOTO COURTESY

Marine experts in Pate Island, Lamu county have launched investigations to unravel the cause of death of a Dugong, one of the rarest species of sea mammals whose carcass was found by marine scouts on Friday.

The Dugong which survives in tropical waters is one of the few sea creatures that give birth to their young ones and breastfeeds them using their pectoral mammary glands and can grow to a length of 10 metres weighing up to 400 kilograms.

The carcass estimated to be two to three days old was found lying in a mangrove forest near Pezali Shanga area according to the Pate community Marine conservancy manager Nadhir Hashim.

According to Nadhir, the cause of death of the mammal whose carcass is 6.5 meters long remains unclear.

“ Our Marine experts are conducting some preliminary tests that will help us unravel the cause of death before we can bury her,” Nadhir told Baraka FM.

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According to Nadhir, dugongs are a very rare sighting and one was last sighted in the area in May 2019.

The Dugongs which are known as Nguva in Swahili have recently come under threat due to the destruction of seagrass meadows, their primary food source by destructive fishing methods and to pave way for infrastructural projects.

This is according to a 2017 report published by the Indian Ocean Observatory.

“Dugongs along the Kenyan coast continue to be threatened by a myriad of human activities including; direct human exploitation, habitat loss and destruction, and incidental capture during fishing operations. The rate of population change is most sensitive to changes in adult survivorship. Experts view that even a slight reduction in adult survivorship as a result of habitat loss, disease, hunting or incidental drowning in nets, can cause a chronic decline in a dugong population.” The report says.

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The International Union for Conservation has classified the Dugong as vulnerable to extinction and experts estimate that approximately 50 Dugongs are remaining in East African waters down from a population of 500 in the 1960s.

In 2017, an ariel count of large sea creatures conducted by the Kenya Wildlife Service using a light aircraft fitted with special cameras failed to sight any Dugong, instead, a 300-kilogram carcass of a Dugong got entangled in a fisherman’s net in Mwaembe village, Kwale County a few months later.

Trapping of Dugongs is illegal in Kenya with offenders attracting a fine of up to 20 million shillings.

Nadhir has told Baraka FM that the carcass will be exhumed after decomposing so that her scales can be obtained to aid in research.

“ In about three months, we hope that the carcass will have decomposed fully and thereafter, we hope we can obtain the scales to that we can preserve them,” Nadhir said.