One of the more popular activities for visitors to Koh Libong, a relatively obscure island destination in southern Thailand, is a Dugong spotting tour. There are a reported 70-80 dugongs that live in the shallow waters and mangroves off the southeastern coast of this small island.
Commonly refered to as a sea cow because it’s diet consists primarily of sea grass, the dugong is a relatively large sea mammal and is related to the manatee. Since the early 20th century, the dugong populations in the wild have been in severe decline and they are now considered a rare or endangered species.
The Dugong spotting tour consists of going out to sea early in the morning by motorized longtail boat to a location where the dugongs have been observed before, and sitting there quietly in the hope that one will show up. If there is a dugong in the area, the creature will periodically come up for air - albeit for less than a second - before it submerges in the water. When the Dugong appears, the boatman will point and say Dugong – then before you can say boo, the creature is gone.
While I was in Koh Libong, I went on the Dugong tour with a Canadian couple - Bret and Annabell - apparently there were four individual sightings, however I was only able to observe only two as I was busy shooting the breeze with Bret. I distinctly remember the last sighting - one large dugong came up for air, then rolled over displaying a cream colored belly. That was quite impressive – but it lasted for no more than two seconds at the most.
It’s too bad these guides do not know more than just a few words of English so they could share their knowledge about the natural history of these unique creatures. Because of the lack of commentary, the tour is sort of a waste of time (and money) unless you’re your sole purpose was to have an opportunity to get a brief glimpse of this rare sea mammal. Remember there is no guarantee that you will even see this elusive creature.