Photo/IllutrationYoshihito Wakai, left, gives advice on how to feed a baby male dugong named Jamil at the Phuket Marine Biological Center in Phuket, Thailand, on July 27. (Masatomo Norikyo)

PHUKET, Thailand--To save the lives of orphaned baby dugongs, Japanese dugong expert Yoshihito Wakai has been invited to a marine research center here to offer his expertise and guidance.

Wakai, 59, vice director of the Toba Aquarium in Toba, Mie Prefecture, will be visiting the Phuket Marine Biological Center in southern Thailand until early August.

On July 27, Wakai assisted the staff with a 5-month-old male dugong named Jamil, who was taken in by the research center in June.

Wakai watched Jamil for about six hours in a pool in the center from the morning. While playing together in the water in the afternoon, Jamil begun swimming and splashing about although the young marine mammal was not active.

Wakai gave instruction on “dietary education,” in teaching the dugong how to recognize food by letting them bite seaweed. He also taught local breeding staff how to examine their excrement to help in their care.

Wakai has 35 years of experience in working with endangered dugongs. He is known for raising a female dugong named Serena, which broke the world record for living in captivity in 2018, having spent more than 32 years in the aquarium.

In southern Thailand, dead dugongs have been found in succession this year at a higher rate with 15 in total as of July 14. This is double the mortality rate compared with previous years.

Experts have said that in the majority of cases, the dugongs were caught in fishery nets due to coastal fishing expansion and drowned.

Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, director of the center, said, “As the death of adult dugongs continues this year, their calves might have become orphans.”

Dugongs are mammals living in shallow seas in regions such as Southeast Asia and Australia. In the sea off southern Thailand where an estimated 250 dugongs inhabit, many observation tours are offered and divers come from across the world to see them.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the mammal on its red list as the danger of extinction has risen.