Death of baby dugong orphan was ‘kind’
SCIENTISTS have defended the decision to euthanase a baby dugong stranded on a Townsville beach, claiming it was the "kindest thing to do".
But conservationists have slammed the "bizarre" move, saying more could have been done to save the vulnerable animal including using stinger nets as a temporary ocean enclosure.
The Department of Environment and Science yesterday said rangers and the public searched a large area of the water near where the calf was found at Pallarenda on Sunday but saw no signs of other dugongs in the area. A DES spokeswoman said more than 90 minutes was also spent attempting to refloat the calf and reunite it with its mother.
"As the animal became visibly exhausted, the decision was made to move the calf to a marine facility," she said.
The spokeswoman said DES staff considered a number of factors before moving the calf to the Reef HQ Aquarium.
"These included stresses on the animal brought on by separation and the human interaction, potential exhaustion from trying to support its own weight out of the water while beached and the effects of exposure to heat and sunburn," she said.
Reef HQ Aquarium said it was a "sad time" for staff and that "all efforts were made to relocate the animal to other facilities throughout Australia".
Professor of environmental science and dugong researcher Helene Marsh said given the vulnerability of the baby dugong there was not going to be a good outcome in this case.
"Looking after a baby dugong is a full-time job for one person that would take at least 18 months," she said.
"Even if that was successful it would probably never be able to be released from captivity.
"There's no doubt this is very sad, but … (euthanasia) was the kindest thing to do."
However Townsville-based conservationist and wildlife carer James McLellan said the "bizarre" decision to euthanase was made too quickly.
He said authorities should have considered putting it back in the water with a tracking device or temporarily holding it in a stinger net in the hope the calf's mother or members of the herd returned.
He also said more boats on the water or the use of technology such as drones might have been more successful in helping find the mother.
"It seems like the dugong was given a death sentence as soon as they took it away from the water," he said.
North Queensland spokesman for Marine and Wildlife at Bob Irwin Wildlife Foundation Colin Riddell said he was "stunned" by a decision he described as a "national disgrace".
"I can't believe we don't cater for looking after all marine life," he said.
The remains have been taken to JCU for a necropsy.