Conservationists in India Call Scarce 'Mermaids' in Peril after Tsunami

Conservationists in the Capital are worried that the Dugong Creek may well lose all dugongs in the post-tsunami Andaman.

NEW DELHI — Conservationists in the Capital are worried that the Dugong Creek may well lose all dugongs in the post-tsunami Andaman.

Zooogically called the sirenaids for their lonely mid-sea melancholic sonatas, Dugongs are the legendary "Mermaids", which in ancient times were fatally chased by many sailors due to their half-woman and half-fish looks.

Red-listed among the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) endangered species, these big grass-eater underwater mammals might have lost their grasslands, the habitat. According to Parikshit Gautam, a WWF expert in freshwater and wetlands, tourists nostalgic about 'mermaids' might now miss them.

Though scientists always cautioned high-sea sailors against reading much in sonatas from underwater animal kingdom, terming it "dangerous", (as recently reported a BBC article Nature of Song in its Wildlife magazine), tourists in the islands may lose one of the oldest underwater giant-look herbivores of the creation.

Asked if the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) was mulling anything in island zoos to conserve these ancient mammals, CZA's senior scientist Bipul Chakraborty on Thursday said, "We don't have any such brief as of now. But definitely dugongs should be conserved for underwater ecology."


Recently on a pre-tsunami day, Mumbai-based Reefwatch Marine Conservation Group's marine biologist Sarang Kulkarni recently lamented in an email to TNN that dugongs were not sighted enough.

(Kulkarni, who didn't return mails after the tsunami, did not find many dugongs in the creek. Mails trying to trace him has gone unresponded so far.)

Asked about dugongs, the chief wildlife warden and chief conservator of forests, MB Lal said, "We never really tried to conserve the mammals in the creek. We never had any brief to that effect."

According to Sarang and other divers, who explore in the islands' lagoons, hardly a pair or two are visible. They can't find enough underground grasslands too, on which dugongs feed. After the tsunami even that small habitat might have gone with the waves.

But some scientists are on records to have wondered why dugongs are not sighted frequently in the Pacific coasts at Australia or in the Bay lagoons at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arabian Sea's Gulf of Kutch and at the Gulf of Mannar in Indian Ocean. Dugongs have not much seen at the Atlantic coasts either. For reasons, they conjecture hunting, heavy traffic, slicks and demolished coastal ecosystem due to eco-tourism which have stopped growth of long underwater grass, pushing dugongs to extinction.

No wonder, the world's ancient under-water vegetarian predators are fast going to meet the fate of their big brothers, average-nine-metre-long veggy sea-cows (hydromalis stelleris), which became extinct over 250 years back, thanks to efficient Moby Dicks among whalers.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News