A sad day for marine mammals, as researchers declare that the dugong is ‘functionally extinct' in China, after only three people surveyed from coastal communities in the country reported seeing any in the past five years.
Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Chinese Academy of Science conducted the research, which found there had been no verified sightings since 2000.
Prof Samuel Turvey, from the ZSL, co-authored the study and said: “The likely disappearance of the dugong in China is a devastating loss.”
Dugong under threat
The natural habitat of dugongs close to shore meant it was vulnerable to hunters, who sought out the animal for its skin, bones and meat through the 20th century, but after a notable decline in population, the mammals were made a ‘grade-one national key protected animal' by the Chinese State Council in 1988.
Unfortunately, the continued destruction of its habitat, as well as a lack of seagrass beds on which to feed, has caused the rapid population drop, according to researchers.
Dugongs, which are closely related to manatees, are facing similar threats in other parts of the world. They are classified as ‘vulnerable' on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species, and Prof Turvey said the extinction in China should act as a warning to other regions that are home to the mammals, including Australia and East Africa.