The mammalian species is found in the warm coastal waters along the eastern coast of Africa, southern Asia, and northern Australia. It hails from one of the four families that lie in the order Sirenia, which, according to the experts, is believed to have evolved from four-legged land mammals around 60 million years ago.
Interesting Dugong Facts
The shape and size of this mammal can be roughly compared to that of a dolphin; the only difference being a less-streamlined head and lack of dorsal fin. However, it does have a flattened-fluked tail like that of a dolphin. While adults dugongs are light brown, juveniles are pale brown in color.
As mentioned before, its diet is almost entirely vegetarian. It is known to graze on underwater seagrass all day long, and hence, is classified as an exclusive benthic feeder―a characteristic which is absent in manatees. It uses its snout to dig furrows in the seabed and simply uproots its meal―shaking its head to get rid of the sand―and eats it.
According to surveys, the Shark Bay Marine Park, Western Australia, is home to the largest population of the Australian dugong in the world. The park alone houses over 10,000 dugongs. In the entire Australian waters, there are about 80,000 of them.
Dugongs usually attain sexual maturity by the age of 9 - 10 years. The gestation period for these mammals lasts for 12 - 14 months. They give birth to their young ones in shallow waters, mainly to avoid sharks and other marine predators.
The juvenile remains close to its mother for about 6 months to a year. After a calf is born, the mother does not breed for the next 2.5 to 7 years. Given the low reproductive rate, the dugong population remains vulnerable to extinction.
Some More Facts About Dugongs
- They can stay underwater only for about 6 minutes, after which they have to resurface to breathe.
- At times, they are found resting in a vertical position with their head just above the surface of the water.
- Chirp, squeaks, trills, barks, and probably other kinds of sounds are used as a means of communication by dugongs.
- A 5,000 year old painting, which the experts believe belongs to the neolithic age, has an illustration of this mammal.
- The dugong derives its name from the Malay word 'duyung', meaning the 'lady of the sea'.