In an extremely rare incidence, a live dugong sighting has been reported off the coast of Okha last Sunday. In fact, this might be the first time in about 30 years that a live dugong sighting has been recorded with a photograph.
The earlier ‘sightings’ were based on fishermen feedback, but not scientifically recorded.
The sighting by a field scientist Shivbhadrasinh Jadeja comes as great news for Gujarat which has been ruing the mammals declining population across the country, and especially in the Gulf of Kutch (GoK).
Jadeja, who is a programme officer with Center for Environment Education (CEE), spotted the dugong from a boat last Sunday morning somewhere between the Paga reef to Bural Chank area.
This is just on the border of the Marine National Park. The dugong was sighted on the sea surface only for a short time of about 15-20 seconds, but it was enough for Jadeja to take photographs.
The sighting is significant because it reveals that the Dugong indeed inhabits in the waters of the GoK. Jadeja in fact says that March to May-June is the mammal’s breeding season, and it spends these months only in that area which it considers very safe.
Director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation Bharat Pathak is thrilled. “This is the first live sighting of this extremely shy sea mammal with a photograph. We have received arbitrary news from fishermen that they may have sighted what they call the Suvar Machhi, but never with photographs,” he says.
GEER had conducted a detailed study in 2008-2010 titled ‘Status of dugong in India’ in which they had estimated the maximum Dugong population in Gujarat’s GoK at about 15. However, no live sightings were recorded during the study either; a dead dugong carcass was washed ashore at Beyt Dwarka in January 2010.
According to the GEER Foundation study, which was first of its kind detailed report on the status of the dugong in India, the likely total population in India is around 254, with Tamil Nadu expected to host around 158 and Andaman and Nicobar Islands hosting around 81.
Dugong is an extremely shy and lazy mammal. It is herbivore and eats the sea grass which grows in abundance in the GoK. It has been declared as Vulnerable according to a 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened species.