Smiley orphaned dugong dies in Thailand after ingesting plastic

Baby dugong.
The beloved baby dugong grew an online following. Photo credit: Getty/Screengrab.

A beloved orphaned dugong cared for by biologists in southern Thailand has died after ingesting plastic.

The eight-month-old mammal, named Marium, captured hearts across the world after adorable pictures of her seemingly smiley face and cuddles with her caregivers went viral online. 

An autopsy performed on Saturday discovered numerous pieces of plastic in Marium's intestines, according to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. The plastic buildup reportedly resulted in inflammation and a respiratory infection.

Marine biologists have also suggested an overly-aggressive mating pursuit by a male may have contributed to her death.

In April, baby Marium was found orphaned off the coast of Krabi, southern Thailand. Veterinarians were known to paddle out to Marium in canoes to feed her throughout the day, the Associated Press reports.

Marium gained a global fanbase when her carers began posting regular updates and live feeds of her online. Fans enjoyed seeing her progress as she was fed seagrass and bottled milk, doted on by biologists, vets and volunteers. 

The celebrity dugong has been regarded as a symbol for the conservation of the world's oceans.

One veterinarian who helped care for Marium, Nantarika Chansue, shared her devastation on Facebook with a photo of her cuddling the dugong.

Dugongs, a species of sea cow, are listed as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List. The mammals face environmental threats such as habitat loss, pollution and hunting.

Recent scientific reports estimate between eight and 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year.

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