Sailors mistook them for mermaids: now these animals are completely extinct

For hundreds of years, these meek giants, commonly known as sea cows, have been swimming in Chinese waters,

eating algae at the bottom of the ocean.But due to the fact that for 20 years dugongs have not been observed in this region, an international team of scientists recently conducted an investigation. They interviewed local fishing communities in four Chinese provinces looking for evidence of the missing animals. And they didn't find them.

Historical data on the existence of dugongsreached a peak around 1960, and then, starting in 1975, they became much less. For example, after 2008, no confirmed sightings of fishermen were recorded by experts. However, scientists in China have not seen dugongs in the wild since 2000. The researchers reported this in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“We are forced to conclude that dugong populations have drastically declined in recent decades and are now functionally extinct in China,” the scientists write.

Dugongs have plump bodies, broad, drooping muzzles andflattened tail, similar to the tail of a dolphin. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), adults reach 4 m in length and can weigh more than 400 kg. They resemble manatees, which are also called sea cows. But while manatees inhabit freshwater ecosystems, dugongs inhabit shallow tropical ocean environments from East Africa to Vanuatu.

Dugongs feed on "seagrass" (algae) in the same way that terrestrial cows feed on ordinary grass here on land.

Outwardly, neither manatees nor dugongs look likepeople, not to mention mermaids - charming women with long hair and fishtails. But the sailors most likely saw these animals only in passing. This was enough for homesick men to imagine they were seeing mermaids diving under the waves, according to National Geographic.

According to the University of Michiganvariety of animals, dugongs graze near the coastline. Because of this, they are often hit by boats and they fall into the nets of fishermen. In addition, human activities in recent decades have drastically reduced and even destroyed their coastal habitat.

Several people reported seeingdugongs in Chinese waters over the past five years, but these sightings have not been confirmed, the authors of the new study emphasize. It is possible that some individuals survived in the northern South China Sea, but most likely the recently sighted animals were misidentified or belonged to more stable dugong populations near the Philippines, the scientists write.

What's more, according to the study, "the drastic population decline of this species in recent decades is unlikely to be stopped or reversed under current conditions."

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