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Dugong  Dugong dugon  Status vulnerable to extinction at a global scale

Dugong (Dugong dugon) and its closest living aquatic relative the manatee are more closely related to elephants than to whales or dolphins and belong to the order Sirenia in the mammal family Dugongidae.

Dugong can grow to over three meters in length and weigh in excess of 400 kilos, feeding exclusively on seagrass, cropping the leaves and roots, a feeding habit that has earned them the nickname of “sea-cow”.

Dugong do not reaching sexual maturity until well over ten years of age and have a very low reproductive rate - only one calf every 3 or more years - gestation period of 12-14 months. Young suckle from the mother for over 18 months and will remain with her for many years.

Dugongs have a fluked tail which is used for swimming, have no dorsal fin, and use their front flippers for balance and turning. Their heads are round with small eyes and a have a large dropping snout or muzzle. Both male and female have tusks but these are only well developed in males. They have to surface to breathe every five minutes or so since unlike dolphins and whales, they are not able to hold their breath for long periods of time.

Between August and early April each year large herds numbering several hundred congregate in the water northwest of Hawar and southeast of Bahrain. This herding activity peeks in late autumn and involves mostly mothers and calves. Efforts to photograph them underwater has been frustrated by relatively poor visibility as they stir up the seabed whilst feeding, however local diver/photographer Colin Cunningham was able to obtain some interesting pictures while diving with a small herd in 2003 (area 3).

Tony Preen photographed (included in his report) from the air 674 Dugong in two herds less than a km apart, east of Mu’tarid (area 1 on the map) in 1986, over 250 were photographed by Ian Bell GBRA in the same area in 2000. Numbers recorded since have varied from year to year but generally over five hundred individuals are to be found in the area outlined blue on the map with the largest concentrations in areas 1 and 2 with areas 3 and 4 containing smaller numbers. Given that as a species dugong have such a low productivity rate and that all the herds that continue to be regularly observed around Hawar consist largely of mothers with calves, one has to assume therefore that the makeup the herds, or individuals present, changes each year. In 2003 a dead calf thought still borne was found on the shore line of Hawar, unfortunately the carcass was lost on the tide before an attempt to recover it could be made. Although it has never been proven conclusively that dugong breed around Hawar there is however considerable evidence to suggest that the area is a least an important nursery area. It is fair to state that something interesting is going on. The herding behavior of Dugong in the waters of Hawar is a feature of species behavior not recorded elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf., a fact confirmed recently by the UAE environmental agency 'ERWDA' who conducted aerial surveys of the UAE waters in summer 2000 and winter 2001 (al-Ghais & Das 2001) and report that no large groups were sighted during the survey a fact that is consistent with the survey findings of  Tony Preen in his 1989 report. Whereas in Bahrain to see single individuals is unusual not the norm.

The dugong of Hawar are easy to find - ask the BBC NATURAL HISTORY FILM UNIT - they had a few hours to spare while filming the Socotra Cormorant on Hawar, so to add to their resources they filmed a small herd from both the air (helicopter) and on the surface from my boat. Time spent looking for them other than journey time, about half an hour. We even snorkeled with them for fun but water clarity made filming them in that environment impracticable without specialist equipment however watch this space. To see the BBC Hawar footage - Dugong and Socotra Cormorants watch out for the new BBC series "Planet Earth" - it airs some time early in 2006.

Preen, A., (1989) “Dugongs Vol. 1 The Status and Conservation of Dugong in the Arabian Region.  MEPA - Ministry of Defence and Aviation Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - 1986 MEPA survey)

 Bell I., (2001) “A Preliminary Assessment of The Turtle And Dugong Populations of Bahrain and The Hawar Islands ”.

Ministry of Housing Bahrain. Internal Report.

Dugong Status Report and Action Plans for Countries and Territories UNEP/DEWA/RS.02-1 ISBN 92-807-2130-5; Helene Marsh Action Plan Coordinator IUCN/SSC Sirenia Specialist Group, Helen Penrose, Carole Eros, and Joanna Hugues


Setting the Record Straight

I think it is safe to state that the existence of large numbers of Dugong in the waters of Hawar is a scientifically proven fact ... so you might be surprised to know that when the Islands of Hawar were nominated by the Kingdom of Bahrain for inclusion on the World Heritage list of Natural Sites, during the process of nomination, the IUCN representative who visited the islands included the following statement in his report ???

IUCN Hawar evaluation
Summary of natural values  -- Up to 200 dugongs have been recorded in the area, 400 to 500 individuals are said to exist locally in three to four herds, although this is yet to be confirmed by systematic research.

I for one would very much like to hear from the IUCN as to the justification for the inclusion of the words "Up to'  'have been' and 'are said to exist' in their report. They had access to the same information, are 674 more than or less than 200. All the observational data since Preen including film and photographs provided by the Kingdom of Bahrain was this just our imagination? For those elsewhere in the world involved in the WHS nomination process ask of the IUCN how many experts they have on their list - then ask them how many they actually use in the field evaluation process for World Heritage sites -- Don't be surprised if you find out its only a handful and always the same people - I ask of the IUCN only that they live up to peoples expectations of them as a WORLD BODY. We welcome constructive criticism when based on fact but the IUCN report on Hawar contained so many errors in all aspect that I wonder where they got the information from in the first place. --- on birds for example (IUCN Hawar evaluation) -- of the 192 species of birds recorded in Bahrain, 132 are present on the Hawar Islands. Hello Mr. IUCN have you not heard of checklists - the Bahrain list has been on the web since 1996 it contains 318 species, --- example (IUCN Hawar evaluation) Other important species present in the nominated site are osprey (with 20% of the world population breeding in the site) I beg to differ Mr. IUCN but 20% of the world population of Ospeyexample (IUCN Hawar evaluation) Other important species present in the nominated site are Lesser Kestrel  Wrong again Mr. IUCN, with only three sighting records for Hawar the species does not feature on any local priority lists. This is but the tip of the iceberg, would you trust a report that contained such obvious errors particularly when documenting such a well published facet of the Islands wildlife. Well the IUCN did, when they delivered their opinion in China they quoted directly from the report even though the erroneous reporting had being pointed out to them and additional supporting evidence had been supplied.  If you work for the IUCN or are involved with them or like me actually care about conservation rather than playing politics then read the official more diplomatic assessment of their report on Hawar by clicking here. I suggest you even research the facts yourself,  they are freely available, no mysteries here.

Can the IUCN explain the herding behavior of the dugong about Hawar, answer no can anybody provide an answer no, but it happens, year in, year out and it happens nowhere else in the Gulf. So why did they in the IUCN report dismiss the sites significance. (IUCN Hawar evaluation) However, this population is not exclusively present in the nominated site as they move along the waters of the Gulf of Salwa.This is a statement of fact Mr. IUCN just how did the assessor arrive at this conclusion. It's about time someone found out if Hawar is a breeding ground, possibly even for the entire Gulf population, and found out quickly before we loose this site? We managed to get a deferred decision on the Hawar application BUT we originally had gone to China with a rejected site on our hands, a fact that developers here in Bahrain constantly remind us. These vultures are waiting in the wings - do you want to see yet another Palm Island or Map of the world development - it will happen unless someone acts quickly.






Dugong Herding Area


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