The dudong, a lumbering mammal similar to the American manatee, was thought to reside in the northern Okinawa area where the U.S. and Japanese governments wanted to build a replacement airfield for Futenma.
Environmentalists pressed the issue, and won, forcing the governments to back off plans to build the Henoko facility. Newly released photographs from the Japanese Environmental Ministry support the decision. Photographs taken last February have been released showing a female dudong and her child swimming off the Okinawa coast.
Officials say the shots were taken from a helicopter flying over the Okinawa west coast. The pair was observed swimming together for more than three hours, during which the mother dudong breast-fed her child. The dudong is a shy animal, and officials say the relatively few numbers make it difficult to document their activities.
The Environmental Ministry says it considers Okinawa a dudong habitat, and ahs designated it a natural monument. Studies of the area have been going on for more than five years.