• This Dugong Don't Care!

    Rami had come from San Diego, California, and was tracing his Egyptian roots. He now lived close to Marsa Alam. He often dived along this coast. He knew that a dugong frequented a certain bay. Other divers had seen it but he had only encountered huge green turtles and a few guitar sharks on previous visits, diving from a boat. Now there was a recently constructed hotel on the beach and he and his buddy were land based. They were prepared to spend all week if necessary, searching for the elusive dugong, but there was no need. It might have been a remote bay on Egypt’s Red Sea coast but the presence of the new hotel resort meant things were different. They had been told that they only had to sit on the now crowded holiday beach in their dive kit on and wait until they saw twenty or thirty Italian holiday-makers becoming hysterically frenetic, yelling and screaming and splashing above the dugong, to know where it was. Sure enough, before long a shout went up from one man and all the other people in the water began to swim hastily if not too neatly to where it was. The divers leapt into action, grabbing their underwater cameras and wading out in the shallows until it was deep enough to swim. When they had got out there, they could not believe what they saw. The dugong was in only around three metres (10ft) of water and within easy reach of those prepared to hold their breath and swim down. Above it was an uncontrolled mob, splashing and kicking with dozens of flipper-clad feet bicycling frantically.

    This dugong seemed unpeturbed by the madding crowd! The animal seemed totally unperturbed, lumbering along on its foreleg-like flippers, grazing on the grass cow-like with its capacious, bristly snout and occasionally rising quietly in an almost stately manner through the melee to take a breath of air before returning serenely to the bottom to continue feeding.
    It was the scuba divers that were perturbed. Swimming below the holidaymakers, their cameras were kicked by endless numbers of feet. Their breathing regulators were continually wrenched from their mouths by the wayward limbs of swimmers that hurtled down and crashed into them. They got bruises in places they didn’t know they had. They were having a tough time and wondered why they stayed in such shallow water but the dugong didn’t seem to give a damn. It did have numerous old scars on its back but before you think that ladies manicured nails or jewellery carelessly caused these injuries be informed that male dugongs have tusks that they use in a cavalier manner during the mating season. Not only that, this animal appeared to be quite a clumsy swimmer when it came to manoeuvring. It was a bit cow-like. It’s said that when the wind gets up and waves form in the bay, it had sometimes seen crashing carelessly against the nearby coral reef. Clumsy cow!
    Dugong9556 This picture was shortlisted for the Environmental Photographer of the Year Awards 2015 at the Royal Geographic Society in London.
    It wasn’t a pretty animal either. About the size of a cow and reminiscent of a little underwater elephant from the front, the dugong is a large marine mammal has a wide tail with a fluke not unlike that of a whale. It gives rise to the idea that when sailors from Europe first encountered them and glimpsed them from a distance, carrying their offspring in an arm-like posture of the forward flipper, they may have caused them to first originate the legend of the half-human half-fish, the ‘mermaid’. Dugongs stay underwater for only short periods because unlike other marine mammals, they can’t hold their breath for very long. This is probably another reason why they like shallow water. Many people confuse dugongs with the freshwater manatees of Florida. In fact they look quite different, especially considering that incongruous tail. In fact the dugong looks quite absurd. Who in their right mind would have designed an aquatic elephant with the tail of a whale and the eating habits of a cow? Now if you were to leave a cow to graze in a field there would be plenty of evidence of its passing. You’d have to take care where you walked. There was none of that on the sea grass covered seabed thanks to the voracious activities of the huge and obviously well fed remoras that travelled with it, quietly getting on with the job of cleaning up as they went, a work in progress._FFF2366b In fact life seemed to be carrying on as normal for the dugong. If it didn’t like the madding crowd it would have gone somewhere else. The Rami and his buddy were only relieved when its path of lush sea grass led it down to nine metres (30ft) deep, a place where the raucous revellers above were less able to reach and interfere with them. They then could swim around it without distraction by the sudden rushes from above and unfortunate impacts by unskilled swimmers, and got the photographs of the dugong in a more natural state. At one point Rami lay on the grass ahead of the animal to get a low-angle photograph of it and it lumbered on over him as if he wasn’t there. It was only afterwards they realised that the pictures of this unusual animal with the madding crowd told more of a story. This dugong evidently didn’t care. Give it plenty of sea grass, and don’t bother it. This is a chapter from Amazing Diving Stories, available signed by the author at Ocean Leisure.

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