Beloved Thai baby dugong ‘Mariam’ dies with plastic in stomach

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Image: Sirachai Arunrugstichai/AFP

A baby dugong, famous in Thailand, and only eight months old, died of what expert biologists have concluded was a combination of shock and plastic waste in the ingestion system.

The female dugong (a large ocean mammal) became a social media star in Thailand, and was named “Marium”, meaning “lady of the sea”.

Marine experts nurtured her after finding her beached on the south of Thailand in April. She soon became an internet sensation after images of her being fed with milk and grass by the biologists spread across social media.

She was nicknamed the “nation’s sweetheart” by Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).

Marium the dugong, swimming in the sea around Libong Island

She had to be fed up to 15 times a day by veterinarians and volunteers that would head out in canoes to deliver the food and perform health checks

Veterinarians and volunteers had set out in canoes to feed Marium for up to 15 times a day while also giving her health checks.

Marium was found bruised last week, supposedly the result of a male dugong getting too aggressive during mating season, according to Jatuporn Buruspat, the director-general of the DMCR:

“We assume she wandered off too far from her natural habitat and was chased, and eventually attacked by another male dugong, or dugongs, as they feel attracted to her,”

She was taken in for treatment in Libong Island’s artificial sea area.

The autopsy showed that her intestine contained a large amount of plastic waste, which likely played a part in her death, as she suffered from gastritis and blood infection.

Marium became a huge sensation in Thailand on social media

According to Jatuporn:

“She must’ve thought these plastics were edible” 

The dugong is a marine mammal, a similar species to the manatee, and they can grow as large as 3.4 metres in length. They are mainly found in the warm coastal waters between Australia and East Africa, in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and Pacific Ocean.

It is believed that the dugong was the original inspiration for some of the most well known ancient maritime tales of sirens and mermaids.

They are currently classed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which means they are at high risk of extinction.