New Pig in town - dugongs could call aquarium home

HIS name is Pig, he munches on English spinach and he could soon be calling Sydney home.

One of Australia's top tourist attractions, the Sydney Aquarium, has lodged a development application to turn its seal exhibit into a dugong oceanarium.

"The proposal represents significant investment in the renewal of the aquarium, which opened in 1988, obviously with a view to enhancing visitor numbers," the application to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority states.

The aquarium would not comment on where its dugongs would come from. But Professor Helene Marsh, a dugong expert at James Cook University, Townsville, said she knew that two dugongs were going to be moved from Sea World on the Gold Coast to Sydney Aquarium.

The pair, known as Pig and Wuru, are the only dugongs in captivity in Australia.

They were rescued on separate occasions after being found stranded and malnourished off the coast of Queensland several years ago. An attempt was made to release Pig but he had to be rescued a second time. "He had to be put in captivity again as he could not survive in the wild," Dr Marsh said.

According to the Sea World website, Pig is fed English spinach, pak choy and lettuce.

The proposed dugong exhibit is 28 metres long and 18 metres wide, with a water depth of 3.75 metres. The water would be heated to 24 degrees.

Dr Marsh said the welfare of the dugongs "should be fine". "I think this is a significant educational opportunity to inform the public about dugongs."

There are more than 100,000 dugongs worldwide, less than 10 in captivity, and the species is listed as vulnerable, she said.

The NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said it was wrong for injured animals to be used as a means of increasing patronage.

"The risk is that the general rule becomes keeping injured animals in captivity - which suits corporate profits - rather than having as a key aim rehabilitation and release."

Sea World, which is owned by the same company as Sydney Aquarium, would not confirm whether its dugongs were heading south.

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