New research shows a marine mammal, that is said to have reportedly inspired ancient tales of mermaids, is "functionally extinct" in China.
In a news release, researchers from the Zoological Society of London and the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the dugong, also known as a "sea cow," hasn't had a presence in China at all since 2008.
In their study, which was published Wednesday in the Royal Society Open Science journal, researchers said the ocean's gentle giant is possibly the first large vertebrate to go functionally extinct in China’s coastal waters.
According to the study, the population of dugongs in Chinese waters began rapidly decreasing in the 1970s due to fishing, collisions with ships, and habitat loss.
Researchers surveyed 66 finishing communities in four Chinese provinces along the South China Sea to gain knowledge about sighting the animal, the society said in a press release.
According to the study, out of the 788 respondents, only 5% reported seeing a dugong, with the average last-sighting date 23 years earlier.
According to the study, only three respondents said they saw the dugong within the last five years.
"This exhaustive survey found no recent evidence of dugong survival across their known distribution in mainland Chinese waters," researchers said in the study. "The authors now recommend that the species’ regional status should be reassessed as Critically Endangered (possibly extinct)."
The animal was first designated for protection in 1988 by the Chinese State Council.