06 January 2009

Stranded dugong saved by Filipino fishermen

A large dugong trapped by the low tide at Palawan island was released by local fishermen. Dugong populations are now protected and thriving in the Philippines' northern Isabela province, the southern Mindanao region and Palawan.
In this Jan. 1, 2009, photo released by the World Wide Fund Philippines, shown are local residents pushing back to the water a giant sea cow after it was stranded in a shallow waters of Puerto Princesa in western Philippines. (AP Photo/WWF Phils, Mavic Madillano)

Stranded sea cow saved by Filipino fishermen
Associated Press 6 Jan 08;
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Filipino fishermen rescued an endangered sea cow, pushing it back into open water after it was stranded off a beach in the western Philippines, conservationists said Tuesday.

The World Wide Fund for Nature said two fishermen tied a rope around the refrigerator-sized mammal on Jan. 1, one day after it was trapped by low tide on the shore of Palawan island's Puerto Princesa city.

After recuperating in the waist-high water, the 8.5-foot-long (2.6-meter-long) animal was declared fit for release by WWF activists.

Onlookers cheered as the sea cow — nicknamed Enero, or January in the Tagalog language — was slowly coaxed out of the lagoon.

WWF said the gentle creatures, scientifically known as Dugong Dugon, had once plied the Philippine archipelago until hunting and habitat degradation wiped out most of the herds.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the species as vulnerable or facing a high risk of extinction. There are no estimates of how many still inhabit the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific.

Thriving populations are now protected in the Philippines' northern Isabela province, the southern Mindanao region and Palawan, WWF said.

Sea cows are thought to live up to 70 years, but females give birth to a single calf every few years. It takes up to 15 years to mature, making the species particularly vulnerable to extinction.


‘Mermaid’ rescued in Philippines
WWF website 6 Jan 09;

Manila, Philippines - Two brave fishermen from the Philippines began the year by saving the life of a trapped dugong or sea cow, the ancient sea mammal generally credited with being the origin of the mermaid myth.

On the afternoon of 1 January Henry Barlas, from the coastal barangay of Maruyogon in Puerto Princesa, noticed something unusual as he gazed at the shallow lagoon fronting his home. Less than 10 metres from shore a 2.6m long dugong lay trapped and weakened by the tide, clearly fighting for life.

Without hesitation he called his colleague Paquito Abia and with the aid of volunteers pushed the refrigerator-sized animal to safety. Since the creature was too weak to fight the ebb tide, the two fishermen fastened a rope around its midriff - it was to survive the swells that drove it ashore the animal needed to recuperate in waist-high water.

In the morning Barlas immediately notified both local officials and WWF-Philippines of the stranding before heading off to check on the dugong. When WWF assessed that the animal was fit enough for release, its ropes were untied and the animal was gradually coaxed out of the lagoon. Cheering onlookers flocked ashore to bid farewell to the wondrous creature brought in by the tide.

WWF Project Manager Mavic Matillano said: “The best part was that we barely needed to do anything. Both Henry and Paquito acted out of instinct and for this we are doubly proud. It seems that the long years of conducting dugong awareness campaigns have once again paid off.”

Trapped under similar conditions, another dugong was rescued by a 15-year old boy in 2007. “Marine mammal strandings are uncommon occurrences but they do happen,” said resident WWF dugong expert Sheila Albasin. “Fortunately it seems people know what to do when a stranding does take place.”

The gentle dugong or sea cow inhabits shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific, wherever seagrass is most abundant. It is the fourth member of the order Sirenia, alongside the three manatee species. A fifth, the gigantic eight-metre long steller’s sea cow, was completely wiped out in 1768, just 30 years after being discovered.

Sizeable herds of dugong - the source of popular mermaid lore - once plied the Philippine archipelago until hunting and habitat degradation reduced overall numbers. When seen from above, the top half of a dugong can appear like that of a human woman. Coupled with the tail fin, this produced an image of what mariners often mistook for an aquatic human.

Thriving populations are now protected in Isabela, Southern Mindanao and Palawan, keeping seagrass meadows cropped, healthy and productive. Dugongs are thought to live up to 70 years, but give birth to a only single calf every three to five years. They are classified by the IUCN as vulnerable and it is one of the flagship species that WWF protects in the Philippines.

In the last decade WWF helped establish a Roxas-based marine-mammal rescue network which has been monitoring strandings and spearheading rescues of dugongs accidentally entangled in fishing gear. Awareness drives to protect not just dugongs, but dolphins and whales, are still conducted regularly.

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