Marium, an orphaned dugong cared for by biologists in southern Thailand, had what it takes to win over the Internet. Few could resist pictures and videos of the button-eyed mammal being fed sea grass and bottled milk and even being cuddled by her caregivers, all while seeming to wear a satisfied smile.
But it seems 8-month-old Marium fell victim to another modern-day phenomenon: the growing presence of plastic in the water. An autopsy performed Saturday found numerous tiny plastic pieces in her intestines, according to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
Dugongs are marine mammals related to the manatee that graze on sea grass in warm, shallow waters from East Africa to Australia. Their population is already threatened by habitat loss from water pollution and coastal development, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Marium was found motherless near a beach in southern Thailand in April. For months, veterinarians and volunteers would paddle out to her in canoes, feeding her multiple times a day and giving her checkups, reports The Associated Press.