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Chasing Dugongs, Moreton Bay 

June 18, 2010

 I now know how to catch a wild dugong, in theory at least.

You've got to have two fast dories and three big blokes wearing rugby headgear.

One boat finds a dugong and follows it until it tires. When the slow-moving dugong comes to the surface to take a breathe the men jump on it, two grabbing the animal's pectoral fins while the other secures the tail.

Researchers catching a wild dugong (Dugong dugo)

No I didn't watch this in a doco on the Discovery Channel.

I was lucky enough to tag along with University of Queensland researcher Dr Janet Lanyon and her team as they used their tried and tested method for capturing, tagging and releasing wild dugongs.

The team goes out to tag Moreton Bay 's wild dugongs year round, but each winter they spend a week aboard Sea World's large research vessel, the Sea World One.

I was one of a few journos invited out to watch all of the action on the last day of an 8-day trip.

I got to go in one of the dories to photograph the chase and when I hoped in the water after the guys I saw what I was later told was a very feisty male.

Researchers catching a wild dugong (Dugong dugo)

He fought for a few minutes and then calmed down, trashing his head occasionally as the team measured him in the water before a stretcher was brought over to transport him back to the boat.

The chase and in-water tackle might seem a bit cruel, but it's the fastest and least stressful way to measure and tag the animals and ultimately to monitor the health of the bay's estimated 1000 dugongs.

Researchers catching a wild dugong (Dugong dugo)

It was my first time seeing a wild dugong and I found myself cheering as it was released, relieved for the animal its short ordeal was over and he could go back to munching seagrass.

The visibility in the water wasn't great, so even with a fish eye lens my shots have a lot of stuff in them. The thrashing of the dugong stirs things up even more but I think the sand and specs in the water add to the images, showing action of the moment, rather than take away from them.

I would love to go out again with team on a clearer day, but ultimately I would like to get images of the wild dugongs in their natural setting, grazing in their summer herds.

It will be hard since dugongs are notoriously shy creatures, but it's worth a go.

I don't want all of my dugong shots to be of them either in captivity or being wrangled by researchers.

Researchers release a wild dugong (Dugong dugo)



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