The dugong (Dugong dugon) is a vulnerable marine mammal with large populations living in urban Queensland waters. A mark-recapture program for wild dugongs has been ongoing in southern Queensland since 2001. This program has involved capture and in-water sampling of more than 700 dugongs where animals have been held at the water surface for 5 min to be gene-tagged, measured, and biopsied. In 2008, this program expanded to examine more comprehensively body condition, reproductive status, and the health of wild dugongs in Moreton Bay. Using Sea World's research vessel, captured dugongs were lifted onto a boat and sampled out-of-water to obtain accurate body weights and morphometrics, collect blood and urine samples for baseline health parameters and hormone profiles, and ultrasound females for pregnancy status. In all, 30 dugongs, including two pregnant females, were sampled over 10 d and restrained on deck for up to 55 min each while biological data were collected. Each of the dugongs had their basic temperature-heart rate-respiration (THR) monitored throughout their period of handling, following protocols developed for the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). This paper reports on the physiological response of captured dugongs during this out-of-water operation as indicated by their vital signs and the suitability of the manatee monitoring protocols to this related sirenian species. A recommendation is made that the range of vital signs of these wild dugongs be used as benchmark criteria of normal parameters for other studies that intend to sample dugongs out-of-water.
Additional publication details
Physiological response of wild dugongs (Dugong dugon) to out-of-water sampling for health assessment