Rehabilitation and display of a stranded Dugong (Dugong dugon) calf in Singapore

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Rehabilitation and display of a stranded Dugong (Dugong dugon) calf in Singapore

Sauvetage et acclimatation d’un jeune dugong (Dugong dugon) abandonné et échoué près de Singapour

Frederic H.C. Chua, Bruce Mackay, Mark Whitfield, Ee Lin Ooi

Underwater World Singapore, 80 Siloso Road, Sentosa, Singapore 098969


This paper reports the rehabilitation, by the staff of Underwater World Singapore, of a Dugong (Dugong dugon) calf that was found orphaned and stranded in a mangrove area in Singapore.

It describes the experiences of the staff during the initial care of the animal, and the subsequent development of husbandry procedures leading to public display. Various options for its future including the possibility of its release are discussed.


Le personnel du "Underwater World Singapore" présente un rapport sur la réhabilitation d’un jeune veau de dugong (Dugong dugon), retrouvé abandonné et échoué sur la plage d’une mangrove proche de Singapour.

Cette présentation rapporte l’expérience vécue par l’équipe du "UWS" au moment des premiers soins et la mise au point des procédures zootechniques qui ont conduit à l’exposition au public de l’animal. Plusieurs solutions sont envisagées pour son avenir et notamment sa réintroduction dans son habitat naturel.

On the 25th of September 1998, the Underwater World Singapore staff rescued a stranded Dugong (Dugong dugon) calf from a mangrove area of Singapore, near its drowned mother (2.68m length). A post-mortem examination of the adult determined that she was lactating. The female calf (1.48m length, 61kg weight) was estimated to be six months old, using growth studies of Dugongs carried out in Japan (Toba Aquarium, 1995). Upon approval by the relevant authorities, the calf was moved to Underwater World Singapore, where she was placed into a cylindrical tank (3.8m diameter, 0.82m depth, capacity 9,300L, new seawater inflow at 10mt/hour). She was named ‘Gracie’.


Feeding Procedures

  • The calf was fed on sea grass (Thalassia hempridii), initially at 11kg per day and subsequently increased now to 15-18kg per day.

  • The sea grass was given to her on rubber “plates” with slits.

  • She was fed milk using an artificial nipple made from the finger of a rubber glove filled with sponge. This was attached via a plastic air-line to an inverted bottle.

  • At approximately 2 years of age, her milk intake was decreased from 300g to 110g per day, to simulate natural weaning.

  • Her weight increased satisfactorily over time at Underwater World Singapore.

Composition of Milk Diet

  • 1,600ml Water / day

  • 110-300g Duplex infant formula / day

  • 8.8g Coconut milk powder / day

  • Mixed and given over 4 feedings per day

Other Husbandry and Veterinary Procedures

  • Faecal egg count followed by deworming every 6 months using Pyrantel Pamoate (15mg/kg BW)

  • Observations carried out daily: faecal volume and weight, respiration rate, frequency of flatulence.

  • Vitamin C and Hesperidin given daily with milk

Public Display

  • Her weight and growth were found to be in line with Japanese studies (Toba Aquarium)

  • She was moved to a tank for public display on the 12th of January 1999

  • Dimensions: 7.3m x 2.7m x 2.7m, water capacity: 100 – 120mt.

What is the Dugong’s Future?

Option 1: Release into the Wild

  • Surveys will be required before and after release.

  • These sites are unavailable in Singapore waters and will therefore require extensive discussions with neighboring countries, including their respective departments regulating CITES issues.

  • Research has shown that the release of other captive marine mammals e.g. Dolphins, are not always successful.

Option 2: Transfer to Another Aquarium with a View to Breeding

  • The aquarium must already house a male dugong.

  • This would provide an opportunity for captive breeding of an endangered species. (As of November 2000, the dugong was about 3 years old)

Option 3: Remain at Underwater World Singapore

  • This option provides an excellent platform for broadcasting conservation

  • Adequate healthcare and holding/display facilities must be provided throughout her life (Dugongs are thought to live up to 70 years in the wild).


  • A successful rehabilitation of an orphaned dugong calf was achieved.

  • However, the continued holding in captivity of such animals requires long-term commitment by the aquarium in view of the Dugong’s possible long life span.


Underwater World Singapore acknowledges the invaluable help from the following.

  • Toba Aquarium, Japan

  • Takuya Mori

  • Charlotte Beynon

  • Staff and Management of Underwater World, Singapore


Toba Aquarium and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippines, 1995.- Dugongs Dugong dugon (Müller, 1776) of the Philippines- Report of the Joint Dugong Research and Conservation Program. May 1995. Pawikan

Conservation Project.- Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Phillipines and Toba Aquarium. Japan, pp 1-168

Bulletin de l’Institut océanographique, Monaco, n° spécial 20, fascicule 1 (2001)

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