Samith Fernando runs a tour boat service in Puttalam Lagoon, a scenic spot about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital. In 2017, he says, he spotted one of the most elusive sea mammals that inhabit Sri Lanka’s waters: dugongs (Dugong dugon).
It wasn’t just a single dugong, either. Fernando says he saw a family of five before they quickly disappeared in the murky waters. He never saw any dugongs again after that, despite operating boat tours daily, and that lone encounter remains deeply etched in his mind.