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numbers considerably. Declining dugong numbers were reported as early as the
1880s and the species required legal protection in 1888, indicating that dugong
populations have been threatened by human activity for more than a century.
Although the precise ecological impacts of those historical activities have not
been established, it is likely that they - together with other impacts, such as
variations in seagrass availability - have contributed to significant declines in
dugong numbers.
Commercial dugong fishing in Queensland, 1847-1969
European commercial dugong fishing took place intermittently from 1847 until
1969 in the Moreton Bay area and for shorter periods at other locations on the
Queensland coast. Dugong oil, hides, bones and meat were produced at stations
in Moreton, Tin Can, Wide, Hervey and Rodds Bays, and also at a small dugong
factory in Cardwell (Figures 7.1 a nd 7.2). Although the industry had declined by
1920, commercial dugong fishing occurred in the Moreton Bay area from 1847
until 1969 (Johnson, 2002). As with other fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef,
commercial dugong fishing occurred with little regard for the sustainability of
the harvest. Johnson (2002, pp27, 29) argued that such disregard resulted from a
perception that the 'bounteous seas' would provide a limitless supply of animals.
European commercial dugong fishing was pioneered by several dugong hunters
at Amity Point, on North Stradbroke Island, Moreton Bay. The fishery was
operating by January 1847, although Welsby (1907, pp52, 57) indicated that
some dugong fishing occurred earlier at Amity Point, during the 1830s, and also
at Pelican Banks. The fishery produced oil for cooking and for the production of
cosmetics, which represented a new export from Queensland . 1
The creation of a market for dugong oil is attributed to Dr William Hobbs, the
Queensland Government Medical Officer, who encouraged the manufacture of
medicinal dugong oil after 1852 as a substitute for cod liver oil. Hobbs exhibited
dugong oil samples at the Sydney Museum and the 1855 Paris Exposition. His
efforts prompted the establishment of a dugong fishing station at St Helena
Island, in Moreton Bay, in 1856, and subsequently dugong fishing expanded
northwards. From 1861, the availability and use of dugong oil was documented in
The Lancet and Pugh's Almanac (1870). In addition to local demand, an order for
1,000 gallons of dugong oil was placed in 1862 by a British supplier of pharmacists
(Thorne, 1876, pp257, 264; Loyau, 1897, p365; Welsby, 1907, pp86, 193) . 2
In 1860, Bennett (1860, pp165-6) described the methods used in the
commercial dugong fishery, including the use of a floating station, harpoons and
A small cutter was fitted out early in the season, with a boiler for 'trying
down' the oil […] and the animal was to be harpooned in a manner similar to
that by which whales are captured. The success, however, was so indifferent,
that it did not pay the expenses, and was abandoned […]. Since that time
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