A 400kg dugong is being flown from the New South Wales far south coast to Queensland on a Hercules aircraft, to relocate it to warmer waters.
The animal has no chance of survival in Merimbula, where there have been fewer than five sightings of the species in 50 years, according to marine experts and it is not known how the dugong got so far south.
Crews spent Wednesday trying to capture the animal, before it managed to swim through the channel and out to sea.
Sea World marine science director Trevor Long said the mammal was relocated this morning.
“Obviously the capture is a stressful situation … we dive beside their tail, grab their tail, then other people get in and restrain it,” he said.
“It’s a little bit like a rodeo … but we’ve never had an issue with it.”
He added the animal coped well and was given the all-clear to board its flight.
Peter Windle from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service said moving a dugong was not an easy feat.
“It will be carried in a sling onto the back of a truck, and will be placed in the tank then be taken to the airport,” he said.
“At the airport it will be lifted out of the tank and the tank placed in the aircraft and Goodbye Dugong,” he said.
High hopes for ‘Merimbula’s’ Survival
The Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) said the decision to return the dugong to warmer waters was made after its condition began to deteriorate.
“Its spine is starting to become very apparent and that’s a sign that it doesn’t have that lovely layer of blubber that it needs to stay warm and to thrive,” ORRCA’s Shona Lorigan said.
But there was hope the dugong, which rescuers named Merimbula, could live up to 70 years old.
“We believe the reality of it living a long live is quite good,” she said.
“We are quite positive about it at the moment.”
The dugong will be taken to Sea World and then released it back into the wild, where it will continue to be tracked.