Qatar Natural History Group

People, Nature, Culture

May Talk: The Strange Evolutionary History of Dugongs in Qatar

Date & Time: Wednesday, May 10th ,  2023 at 7pm

Speakers: Dr. Nick Pyenson:  Curator of fossil marine mammals, Department of
Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Venue: Doha English Speaking School, DESS location

Remote Access: Zoom 


Synopsis of the talk:


What are dugongs and why do they matter for Qatar?

This talk will explore the hidden history of dugongs, a kind of herbivorous marine mammal that lives throughout the Gulf. Today, the dugongs of Qatar form the second largest population in the world of this species. They also serve critical roles in supporting seagrass ecosystems, many of which are jeopardized by human activity.

Surprisingly, dugongs are part of 50 million year evolutionary history for sea cows, which begins with four-legged ancestors that lived on land. The rocks of Qatar preserve unique evidence from specific times of sea cow history, especially in the last 20 million years. I will share more about new fossil discoveries and ongoing work about their ecology, conducted by US collaborations with scientists at both Qatar Museums
and Qatar University.

Speaker Bio:


Dr. Nick Pyenson is curator of fossil marine mammals in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In the past decade, he has worked with and trained over 25 scientists on every continent, collaborating on discoveries that appear frequently in the New York Times, Washington Post, as well as on NPR, CBC, and the BBC.

Along with the highest research awards from the Smithsonian, he has also received a Presidential Early

Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the Obama White House. He is also a National Geographic Explorer, a Kavli Fellow at the National Academies of Sciences, and has worked with the World Economic Forum. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book Spying on Whales, and co-
author with science illustrator Alex Boersma of the children’s book The Whale Who Swam Through Time.


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