The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is collaborating with a number of research groups to study and conduct a series of workshops on dugong – a sea mammal native to the waters of Qatar.

NMoQ is working with ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), Qatar University, the UNESCO Office for the Arab States of the Gulf and Yemen, Texas A&M at Galveston, and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) to study the sea mammal in the lead up to the Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails exhibition.

These organisations also conducted a series of workshops and collated key information that will be featured in the exhibition which will open later this month at the NMoQ.

The committee evaluated current research on the marine environment, with a specific focus on the dugong to assess the key themes that will be presented during the exhibition.

Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails, which is set to open on 30 March until 15 July this year in collaboration with EMRQ, aims to introduce dugongs to the public and present them as an important part of Qatar’s marine ecosystem and raise awareness on how to protect and preserve their environment.

Biggest herd ever-recorded

In Qatar, fossils of dugongs dating back to the Miocene period (23 to 5 million years ago) were found in an area spanning from south Al Kharayej to Al Eraiq. The dugong has inhabited the Qatari waters for over 7,500 years where herds of 600 to 700 dugongs can be found – the biggest herds ever recorded in the world.

After Australia, the Arabian Gulf is home to the world’s second-largest population of these large, long-living, grass-eating sea creatures. Dugongs face extinction due to fishing activities, vessel strikes and environmental pollution.

The joint research effort is focused specifically on the Arabian Gulf dugong and the conservation initiatives to protect their habitat. The sea mammal tends to remain solitary or in small groups, usually a mother and a calf, but have been seen in large herds during breeding.

However, in the Arabian Gulf, dugongs gather in larger groups. The first largest single dugong group ever recorded in the world – 674 individuals – was observed between Qatar and Bahrain in 1986. Later in 2020, another group of 840 dugongs was also recorded.

EMRQ insights

EMRQ and partners have been collecting samples since 2014, mainly from the west coast of Qatar. They have been studying these fascinating and vulnerable marine mammals to obtain greater insights into why the usually solitary sea mammal can be found in large gatherings in the Arabian Gulf.

In addition, scientists are also studying pollutants and their impact on seagrass and marine waters, which form part of the dugong’s natural habitat.

NMoQ Exhibitions Researcher Lina Patmali said that in preparation for the exhibition, NMoQ has worked closely with the scientists as well as the local community to promote the study of these sea mammals that form a special part of Qatar’s natural history. Scientific research is vital to protecting dugongs and their habitat, however, as individuals and a collective, the community can also adjust daily habits to preserve their habitat.

We are grateful that we were able to collaborate with these entities and their scientists and contribute to their work, even in a small way.

The exhibition, according to Patmali, was shaped by the expertise and experience of these experts. Hopefully, she said, the collaboration will not only advance the study of dugongs but also raise awareness and even engage future generations in scientific research and sustainable practices.

Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails is a natural history exhibition that will shed light on the dugong through a scientific and environmental lens and will showcase their ancestry, habits, habitat, the threats they face, and how science is vital to their protection from extinction.

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