A dugong, also known as a sea cow, appeared several times in an “unusual” spot, prompting warnings from officials in Australia.
The marine creature was spotted several times in the Tweed River since last May, the Tweed Shire Council said in a May 17 news release. The “rare sightings” were likely the same dugong.
“I’ve been looking after the Tweed River for 20 years,” Tom Alletson, the Shire Council’s team leader for coasts and waterways, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Up until this time last year, I’d never heard of a dugong being in the Tweed River.”
“I’m sure they have been here in the past, but certainly in recent times it’s a first,” he told the outlet.
Dugongs are known to live in Moreton Bay, the release said. The Tweed River is about 110 miles southeast of Moreton Bay and about 495 miles northeast of Sydney.
The dugong appeared in the Tweed River after a period of flooding. “The presence of one of these marine mammals in the Tweed is both unusual and exciting,” officials said.
“My best guess is it was displaced from Moreton Bay ... due to poor water quality and the impact of that on its habitat,” Alletson told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Officials warned boaters to be extra careful when passing through the Tweed River to avoid hitting the dugong and chopping up the seagrass it eats.
“Dugongs feed on seagrass beds and are entirely dependent on these habitats being extensive and healthy,” Alletson said in the release. “(Boaters) have a special responsibility when it comes to seagrass and the potential presence of a dugong in our river.”
Protecting the local marine habitat also supports the Tweed River’s turtle and dolphin populations, the release said.
Dugongs “travel long distances” but “remember specific feeding areas and return to them after travelling away,” according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. These animals can eat up to about 66 pounds of seagrass every day.
Dugongs weigh over 800 pounds and can reach nearly 10 feet in length, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They are cousins of manatees “but have a dolphin fluke-like tail.” The species is considered vulnerable due to habitat loss and water pollution.