‘Charismatic’ dugong sea mammal declared functionally extinct in China

A giant, gentle sea creature that belongs to the manatee family is now “functionally extinct” in China with no sightings recorded since 2008, a new study said.

The dugong, a strictly marine herbivorous mammal, is known to slowly roam the coasts of tropical and subtropical countries, feeding on sea-grass beds in shallow waters. They can grow up to 10 feet (3m) long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds (454kg).

In a press release announcing the findings, the study’s authors said there are “strong indications that this is the first functional extinction of a large mammal in China’s coastal waters,” where they have been spotted for hundreds of years.

Fishing, ship strikes and human-caused habitat loss were the main drivers of extinction, the authors said. Sea grass is a specific marine habitat that is being “rapidly degraded by human impacts,” according to the release.