The History of the Moreton Bay Dugong

This picture was taken on the Woody Point Jetty - A gentle reminder that dugongs once flourished in Moreton Bay.

In late 1891 a pod of Dugongs were spotted just off Woody Point on the Redcliffe Peninsula.  It is said that this pod measured approximately 8km wide by 300 metres deep.  It was estimated that there were 10s of thousands of dugongs.  Today this number sits just over 500.  So where have all the dugongs gone?

When Europeans began settling within the Southeast corner of Queensland in the 1820’s, they were quick to capitalise on the resources available.  Some of these resources included the abundant number of dugongs in the Bay.  The oil from these dugongs were said to have enormous medicinal value, and so the commercial fishing of the dugong began.  In 1856, a dugong fishing station on
St Helena Island in Moreton Bay was established. 

Once the dugongs were hunted, the precious oil was distilled and then shipped off to London to be sold in pharmacies. The skin was used in the manufacturing of leather products, the bones for cutlery holders and the meat for curing and consumption.  They even sold dugong products at the popular Brisbane Markets. 

In the 1880’s an apparent scarcity of dugongs were noticed as were the apparent abundance of dugongs after flood seasons.

Throughout the late 1800’s through up until the mid-1900’s, concerns over the drop in dugong numbers instigated some legislation to restrict the methods used to hunt them.  That was until 1969 when the Queensland Order in Council ordered a stop to commercial dugong fishing.
It is believed that commercial hunting, particularly during the period between the 1930’s and 1969 has caused an increase in the vulnerability of dugongs in the Moreton Bay area. 

Indigenous hunting of dugong still occurs in North Queensland today due to the cultural significance of the practice. 

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