Thanks to the ‘Friends of Dugong,’ a capacity building training programme launched by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Forest Department involving fishermen in coastal districts, country boat fishermen at Manalmelkudi area in Thanjavur district have rescued and released a dugong in the Palk Bay.

The fishermen, who were engaged in fishing within five nautical miles in the sea, inadvertently caught a medium sized dugong while fishing on Thursday and before causing any discomfiture to the mammal, the fishermen, assisted by marine police and forest personnel released it back into the sea.

P.V.R. Prem Jothi, marine biologist, WII, said the fishermen were pulling the net when they realised that they have caught something big and alerted officials. The WII deputed its researchers and after a participatory effort, also involving Omcar foundation, a non-governmental organisation, the fishermen rescued the marine mammal and released it back into the sea within 30 minutes.

After pulling the mammal close to the shore, the fishermen cut the net on the upper portion, after which, the mammal swam back into the sea amid cheers by the fishermen and officials, he said. The 12 foot long adult dugong could weigh about 400 to 500 kg, he said.

As dugongs would come up to the sea surface every six minutes for breathing, the fishermen kept the mammal in such a way that it could breath easily till it was released, Mr Prem said. Appreciating the ‘good Samaritan’ role, the WII has decided to award a compensation of Rs. 10,000 to the fishermen, he said.

WII in association with Tamil Nadu Forest department had launched the dugong conservation project after witnessing that the population of the mammals was fast dwindling. A recent study showed that there were about 75 to 150 dugongs in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar.

In the last two years, 13 dugongs were found dead after they crashed against rocks and fishing vessels, while one was hunted, he said.

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