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Tamara Keeley, Reproductive biologist

 In June, with 17 other researchers, I helped catch 20 wild dugongs in Moreton Bay, off Brisbane in Queensland to check their health and reproductive status. 

We were from the University of Queensland (UQ), Sea World, Sydney Aquarium and Taronga Western Plains Zoo and worked together on this project which is looking particularly at the Dugongs that live in Moreton Bay. 

Determining reproductive status is important because it helps us estimate reproductive capacity and health. This helps with effective management of populations of this vulnerable species. The skilled field biologists worked with selection of dugongs of both sexes including adult, sub-adult and juvenile animals.  

A specially-designed stretcher was used to cradle the animals as they were lifted from the water onto the deck of research vessel, Sea World One. Having the dugong out of the water allowed researchers to measure reproductive state by taking a comprehensive series of samples including blood, saliva, urine, faeces and other biological material to measure reproductive hormones and establish clinical reference parameters for the species.

These baseline parameters can then be used to assess the health and reproductive capacity of other wild populations and dugongs in human care. Abdominal ultrasounds were performed on adult females to confirm pregnancy as an assessment of reproductive status and population growth. Semen collected from an adult male will be used to determine dugong spermatozoa characteristics to increase our knowledge of male reproduction. As the TWPZ Reproductive Biologist, I conducted trials with this sperm sample to determine potential cryopreservation protocols for the establishment of a genome resource bank for the species.  

This research will be incorporated in a long-term mark-recapture program for dugongs in Moreton Bay. The regular assessment of these animals is a valuable tool for not only monitoring the health of individuals but evaluating the population as a whole and the general health of their habitat.

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