CURRENT STATUS AND CONSERVATION NEEDS OF DUGONGS IN SOUTHERN JAPAN

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Abstract

We conducted aerial surveys of dugongs (Dugong dugon) using the line-transect method and snorkeling surveys of dugong feeding trails in 1998 and 1999 around Okinawa Island (26°30′N, 128°00′E) and the Sakishima Islands, southern Japan. A total of ten dugongs were sighted and feeding trails were confirmed in the sea grass beds off the east coast of Okinawa Island. In the Sakishima Islands, however, no dugongs were observed, and there was no evidence of feeding trails despite the existence of apparently suitable sea grass beds for feeding. The results of these surveys and other available information suggest that Okinawan dugongs represent a small, geographically isolated population. Our sightings of dugongs during the daytime, offshore of sea grass beds where feeding trails were recorded, suggest that Okinawan dugongs principally feed at night when human activities are limited. Survival of this remnant dugong population is threatened by habitat degradation and occasional entanglement mortality in fishing nets.

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