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Dugongs Surviving Despite War

December 26, 1987|United Press International

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Despite a heavy oil spill in 1983 and the unsettling effects of the Iran-Iraq War, the population of dugongs--or sea cows--in the Persian Gulf has not been wiped out, a newspaper report says.

The English-language Saudi Gazette this week quoted officials of the Saudi Meteorological and Environmental Agency as saying the gulf's population of dugongs is about 6,400, thousands more than officials had believed.

An additional 800 are believed to be living in the Red Sea.

Abdul Bar Gain, the deputy director general of the agency, told participants at a conference on dugongs in Jidda that the agency undertook an exhaustive study following the January, 1983, Now Ruz oil spill that leaked the equivalent of more than 900,000 barrels into the gulf.

"Four months after the oil spill, 38 dugongs were found dead on shore, and our estimation of the dugong population was around 50 animals," Gain said.

A transfer of the surviving dugongs to the Red Sea had been planned, but the study showed that the large mammals were more abundant than previously believed.

Dugongs feed on sea grass and may live up to age 70. The biggest man-induced danger to the lumbering mammals are gill nets, which can result in drowning.

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