When they arrived, rangers working for the Egyptian Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs were towing the 500kg female dugong to shore and Professor Adel Sehem gave them permission to do further analysis in order to determine the cause of death. While it is too soon to know for sure, activists suspect that the increased development and tourism traffic in Hurghada might be partially responsible.
HEPCA says that the dugong showed no signs of external trauma and that it was freshly dead when they arrived.
A biopsy of the lungs and kidneys will hopefully give more clues about why she died, and it will be the first time that a DNA fingerprint can be extracted of a dugong swimming in Egyptian Red Sea waters, according to the group.
Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, dugongs have been hunted for centuries for their meat and oil. Although they traverse 48 countries and 140,000 km of coastline, the population has dropped precipitously in recent years.
Dugongs are herbivorous mammals that typically stay close to the coastline so they can feed on seagrasses and other marine plants. These habitats are typically threatened by over-fishing, hunting and development. The port in Lamu, a Swahili outpost in Kenya, is one such development that threatens their fragile population.
That dugongs live for up to 70 years and are slow to reproduce makes it more challenging for their numbers to recover.
Once the biopsy of the Red Sea Dugong is completed, HEPCA hopes to be able to report their findings to the public. In the meantime, they are mourning this tragic loss.
“It’s a sad day to lose such a beautiful animal,” they posted on Facebook. “The harassment that these animals are exposed to by the endless over pressure of the snorkeling and diving boats has to stop,” they added.
“Although the examinations are not finished yet to determine the reason of the death of this dugong , the pressure on sea grass beds where these beautiful animals feed such as Abu Dabbab , Marsa Umbarak and Magawish and the continuous harassment has gone beyond tolerance. This crime has to stop.”