WATCH: NMoQ has unveiled first natural history exhibition on the dugong

WATCH: NMoQ has unveiled first natural history exhibition on the dugong

By QLNews

The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) has unveiled Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails, a special exhibition on the dugong (baqarat albahr), the shy marine mammal that has inhabited the waters surrounding Qatar's peninsula for more than 7,500 years.

Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails will examine the animal, its environment, and its ongoing cultural significance for Qatar, while also highlighting how the community can mitigate the dugong’s threat of extinction.

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) with the help of researchers and scientists at Texas A&M University at Galveston and Qatar University (QU) and the support of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) and UNESCO Doha Office.

"The dugong is a fascinating creature, and its story is sure to captivate museum visitors of all ages. We want to inform our public about the importance of protecting these mammals, which have special cultural and environmental significance to the people of Qatar.

With this in mind, the National Museum has adopted the dugong as its official mascot. We are thankful to our many partners who supported the research behind Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails, especially ExxonMobil Research Qatar", explained Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, Director, NMoQ.

Since 2014, ExxonMobil Research Qatar, Texas A& M Galveston and QU have collaborated to develop research on the dugong in Qatar to protect their natural habitat. In 2018, ExxonMobil Research Qatar launched a campaign to raise environmental awareness to protect the dugong.

The exhibition takes the name Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails from the trails that the animal leaves as it travels through seagrass meadows, an important element of the underwater ecosystem.

Eating all day and all night, dugongs use their heavy bones to sink down to the seafloor and their bristly snouts to detect plants and sweep them into their mouths.

The exhibition will be organized into three overarching themes – learning, discovery, and experience – and is curated by Evangelia Patmali, an exhibition researcher, and Bouthayna M Baltaji, Head of Exhibitions at NMoQ.

Visitors will be introduced to the dugong – a sirenian (or “sea cow”) closely related to the manatee, and the last living species in the Dugongidae family – and invited to learn about its physiology and anatomy, scientific classification and evolution, and history in the region.

Dugongs typically measure more than three metres in length and can weigh up to 550 kg. They date back 50 million years, to the Tethys Sea region.

While dugongs typically live alone or in small groups, traveling along the coast and grazing on up to 40kg (10% of their mass) of seagrass per day, the largest herds in the world, comprising approximately 800 dugongs coming together to breed, have been recorded in Qatar.  

The exhibition will also highlight how the dugong has long held significance to the people of Qatar.

Historically, dugong hide was used for sandals, their tusks for Sheikh’s swords, and their oil and fat for cooking, medicine, potions, and to coat wooden boats.

For decades, the animal has inspired indigenous communities to make art and engage in scientific study.

The dugong lives in three main areas in the Gulf: the coastal area in the UAE near Murawah Island, the northwest coast of Qatar from the Zekreet peninsula and the Hawar Islands to Ras Ushayriq and offshore to Fasht Adhm, Bahrain, and the coastal region of Saudi Arabia between the UAE and Qatar.

Although dugongs are protected under the Qatar MME and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), localized fishing, pollution, and coastal development have contributed to environmental degradation that threatens the animal’s extinction.

The exhibition will conclude by sharing how visitors can help protect the dugong in Qatar, as well as highlighting different professions in research and conservation (marine biologists, chemists, geologists, palaeontologists, ecologists, zoologists, ethologists, etc.) that are helping to maintain the dugong’s natural habitat.

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will have the opportunity to engage in experiential activities, offered within NMoQ’s comprehensive protocols for preventing COVID-19. The unique experiential environments of Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails will include a simulated underwater habitat and a laboratory.

An exhibition highlight includes the installation of a dugong skeleton dating from 2012. The remarkable skeleton was recently added to the permanent collection of the National Museum, having been graciously donated by a family from Al Khor city.

Additional exhibition highlights include a presentation of the flora and fauna found in dugong habitats, including the few species of seagrass that can tolerate the high salt levels and extreme temperature variations of the Gulf, as well as green sea turtles, snapping shrimp, Arabian carpetsharks, goatfish, and blue swimming crabs.

The exhibition will also detail the history of dugong research in Qatar, displaying a timeline of the first discoveries and excavations to the construction of the first full skeleton.

An infant dugong, discovered by Dr. Mehsin Al Ansi from Qatar University with Ismail Al Shaikh from EMRQ, will also be on view at the entrance to the NMoQ school lobby.

The baby dugong taxidermy and skeleton will be on display alongside a film screening that explains the last days before its passing. The baby dugong died due to being separated from its mother - most likely due to a vessel strike or bycatch accident. The film aims to serve as an important reminder for the wider community to protect and preserve local marine life. 

The dugong was selected as NMoQ’s mascot based on its representation of the museum’s ethos of sustainability and environmental awareness, and also for its cultural significance as part of Qatar’s local heritage.

Last year, in celebration of the museum’s first anniversary, local and international artists, designers, and creatives were invited to design a dugong mascot for the National Museum of Qatar. In October 2020, NMoQ announced Gaylord “Choy” Salonga, a graphic designer from the Philippines, as the winner of its Dugong Mascot Design competition.

Seagrass Tales, Dugong Trails will remain on view through 15 July 2021 and is presented as part of the Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture, which was formalized in September 2020 with a cooperative agreement between the State of Qatar and the United States of America during the 2020 Qatar-United States Dialogue in Washington, D.C.

Visitors will be required to reserve tickets in advance on the Qatar Museums website: visit.qm.org.qa

For more information, please visit www.qm.org.qa 

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