The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This baby sea mammal captured people’s hearts. She just died from eating plastic.

A beloved baby marine mammal in Thailand has died after consuming plastic and experiencing shock, Thai officials said Saturday.

The young dugong, a relative of the manatee, was named Marium after marine biologists discovered her orphaned and lost in April in southern Thailand, the Associated Press reported. Soon, she captured hearts around the world as videos of her nuzzling up against caretakers circulated the Internet.

Veterinarians found pieces of plastic blocking the young mammal’s intestines and said that Marium died of shock. Her intestines became inflamed, which caused gas in her digestive tract, an infection in her blood and pus in her lungs. The infection spread, causing shock, officials said in the announcement.

“Everyone is sad about her passing, but this is an issue that must be urgently resolved,” officials from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Thailand said on Facebook. “If we want to conserve rare marine animals so they remain in existence with us, every sector, every person must help with marine trash.”

She might have accidentally eaten the plastic, thinking it was food, the Associated Press reported. When she was brought in for more care last week, she had bruising around her body, possibly caused by bumping into rocks or after being struck by large dugongs, the department said on Facebook.

“We assume she wandered off too far from her natural habitat and was chased and eventually attacked by another male dugong, or dugongs, as they feel attracted to her,” Jatuporn Buruspat, director-general of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources said Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Marium became a sensation online in April through videos of caretakers feeding then 4-month-old Marium milk and sea grass. The dugong can be seen cuddling and hugging the marine biologists as they feed her milk through a tube with a bottle and as she munches on sea grass underwater.

For months, a team of veterinarians and volunteers continued to nurture the young sea creature, who did not swim as part of any herd, feeding her 15 times a day. The dugong would find the teams via their canoes, possibly seeing the bottom of the boat as a substitute for her own mother. They hoped she would one day achieve a life of independence, the Associated Press reported in June.

“She’s attached and tries to swim and cling to the boat as if it was her mother and when we are swimming she would come and tuck under our arms,” Nantarika Chansue, director of the Aquatic Animal Research Center at Chulalongkorn University, who was advising Marium’s caregivers, told the Associated Press. “It’s almost like the way she would tuck under her mother.”

The gray lumbering mammal was mourned around the world Saturday amid calls for a reduction in plastic waste.

Marium is not the first marine animal to die or become injured from ocean plastics. Last year, 80 plastic bags, weighing 17 pounds were found in a whale that died in Thailand, according to CNN. A graphic video of marine biologists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose sparked Internet outrage in 2017. Even seabirds are consuming plastic at an unprecedented rate.

The Post’s Chris Mooney reported in 2018 that plastic waste in the ocean continues to be a growing concern globally.

Seventy-nine thousand tons of plastic debris, in the form of 1.8 trillion pieces, now occupy an area three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, a scientific team reported on Thursday.
The amount of plastic found in this area, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is “increasing exponentially,” according to the surveyors, who used two planes and 18 boats to assess the ocean pollution.
— Chris Mooney

Dugong can grow to be from seven to 11 feet long, and can live into their 70s. They’re listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species.

Officials in Thailand announced they would begin a “Marium Project,” to help reduce ocean plastic and better conserve their dugong population.

Nantarika, one of the veterinarians who Agence France-Presse reported was treating Marium, said on Facebook that she doesn’t want the mammal’s death to be meaningless.

“She taught us how to love,” she said. “And then went away as if saying please tell everyone to look after us and conserve her species.”

Alisa Tang contributed to this report.

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