A beloved dugong that went viral in Thailand has died with a stomach full of plastic waste, officials announced Saturday. The 8-month-old animal was being cared for by marine experts after being found last April near a beach in southern Thailand.
Officials at the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources believe the female dugong, named Marium, died from a combination of shock and ingesting plastic waste.
When Marium was rescued, photos of her cuddling with marine biologists went viral on social media, and she became Thailand's "little angel." Since her rescue, veterinarians and volunteers took canoes to feed Marium and check on her health up to 15 times per day, the Associated Press reported.
She was so beloved, the department even set up cameras to live stream her being taken care of and fed.
According to the department, Marium was chased last week by a male dugong during the mating season, resulting in bruises.
"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, the department's director-general said Saturday.
After the attack, she refused to feed and was moved to a nursery tank Wednesday for close monitoring. She died Saturday morning.
An autopsy also found "eight pieces of waste plastic bags packed together" as well as "small plastic fragments" in her intestine, leading to to gastritis and a blood infection. "She must have thought these plastics were edible," Jatuporn said.
Dugongs are a species of marine mammal, closely related to manatees. Their conservation status is vulnerable, and the population is decreasing amid threats of pollution and habitat loss.
In Thailand, Marium has become a symbol of ocean conservation. The department announced Saturday the Ministry of Public Health will immediately begin implementing a plan to reduce sea waste. Additionally, the "Marium Project" will act as a guideline on how to properly care for and rehabilitate dugongs.
"Her death will remind Thais and people all over the world not to dispose trash into the oceans," Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-arcpha said.