Large population dugong mammals found off Qatari coast

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Large population dugong mammals found off Qatari coast
The waters off the north-western coast of Qatar are home to the second largest population of dugongs in the world, according to an exclusive televised report by Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker.
 
Dugongs usually like to move alone or in a small group but there is a strange phenomenon that occurs outside of Qatar that does not occur anywhere else in the world – seasonally, large numbers of these marine mammals that eat underwater grass, come together in one or two large herds numbering hundreds, off the Qatari coast.
 
The report titled Dugong discovery: Large population found off Qatar has Ismail Al Sheikh of ExxonMobil Research Qatar stating that the team is unaware why such a large number of dugongs populate the Qatari coast. 
 
 
“Perhaps it is for feeding or mating, we are still studying why these mammals come here especially this time of the year,” he added.
Very little is known about the dugong or the sea-cow – a gentle marine mammal that can grow upto 3 meters and length and weigh around 350 kilos. 
According to Texas A&M University’s Christopher Marshall this coming together of these sea mammals in large numbers is a very ‘undugong’ like behavior and no one knows why this strange seasonal phenomenon happens off the Qatari coast.
 
Research into why this grouping of dugongs happens has recently being funded by Qatar National Research Fund - for the next three years.
The Al Jazeera crew on getting a tip-of headed by boat to the northern coast of Qatar and by a stroke of sheer luck witnessed a herd of hundreds of dugongs who came very close to their vessels – close enough for Dekker and her team to hear the marine mammals breathe and see their tusks and tails as the creatures floated up and down the sea waters.
 
Al Sheikh stated it was very rare to see dugongs so close, although he did witness a similar herd from a helicopter about three years ago.
“We have in this region the second largest group of dugongs in the world, it was indeed an amazing experience to see the marine mammals so close, up front, for real, commented Dr Mohsin. 
 
But the sad reality is the dugongs are an endangered species and the Al Jazeera team found a hint, on a deserted beach north of Qatar, as to why the numbers of these mammals are decreasing – a majority of dugongs get drowned because they get entangled in fishermen’s net.
And dugong fossils that have been found there date back to 20 million years!
 
Al Sheikh has a possible solution to the problem – protecting the feeding area containing underwater grass - the main source of food for dugongs and informing people that these sea mammals are an endangered species.
 
Although research in this population of dugongs has been happening over the past few years, scientists say much more needs to be done to protect the mammals’ habitat so that these endangered species don’t disappear forever.

Source: Al Jazeera

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