A female sea cow, locally called “dugong”, was trapped Thursday morning in a fish pen in Barangay Bancao-Bancao in Puerto Princesa City.
The rare and endangered sea mammal was rescued by local authorities and released back to a deeper part of the waters, after getting stuck inside the fish pen for more than 8 hours.
The rescue operation was conducted by locals, members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and marine mammal rescuers from the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE).
PO1 Andy Villacillo of the PCG said the marine mammal was trapped in a fish pen, likely due to the low tide. The owner of the fish pen noticed it around three in the morning on November 30.
He said the dugong, estimated to be around 300 kilos, is often seen in the waters of Bancao-Bancao in the morning, usually accompanied by another and feeding on sea grass, its staple food.
“Sabi ng mga mangingisda dito, dalawa yan silang madalas na nakikita dito. May kasama pa yan siya. Posible na ang isa bago bumaba ang tubig nakaalis. Ito kasing isa na ito, na trap talaga siya sa loob ng baklad,” Villacillo said.
Before it was released, Sally Snow from LAMAVE noted that the fish pen where it was trapped is far from the shore, so they had to be careful for the marine mammal to survive.
“We don’t want to cause any more distress to the animal. And right now, because it’s in a pool [of water], it is good,” she said during the rescue.
Snow said that even though they returned it to deeper waters, they need to ensure that it doesn’t return to areas where the water is shallow.
LAMAVE is a Filipino non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation of marine megafauna in the country.
Dugongs can grow up to about 3 meters in length and weigh as much as 400 kilograms. They have a streamlined body and use their front flippers for steering. Their body is large, and they have a distinct snout that helps them feed on bottom-dwelling sea grasses.
These animals are known for their gentle nature and slow movements. They have an important role in marine ecosystems, particularly in maintaining the health of sea grass beds.
However, dugongs are considered vulnerable to extinction. Their populations are threatened by habitat loss, pollution, accidental capture in fishing gear, and hunting in some regions. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these unique and important marine mammals.