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Dugong Facts

Lady of the Sea: Facts About the Endangered Dugong

A marine animal that is related to elephants! May sounds a little bizarre, but it is cent percent true. We are talking about the dugong, which is more closely related to the elephant than to any marine species.
AnimalSake Staff
Dugong (Dugong dugon) is the only marine mammal whose diet comprises almost entirely of seagrass. 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

Appearance
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. The dugong has a large mouth, with its upper lip covered with bristles, which helps it forage for seagrass. Additionally, it has paddle-like flippers and a large, fleshy muzzle. Its ears and eyes located on the side of its head.

Food
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. Dugongs are usually seen feeding on seagrass that lies at the depth of 1 - 5 meters, however, they are also known to go to a depth of over 20 meters at times. A single dugong eats up to 50 kilograms of seagrass per day.

Habitat
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. Other than that, these creatures are also found in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.

Reproduction
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.
  • The natural predators to this slow-moving creature are large sharks, saltwater crocodiles, and killer whales. Due to its languid nature, it also comes across as an easy game for hunters.
  • Chirp, squeaks, trills, barks, and probably other kinds of sounds are used as a means of communication by dugongs.
  • They swim at an average speed of 10 km/hr. Having said that, they do have the ability to clock speeds of 22 km/hr, but only over a short distance.
  • 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'.
Girl with dugong
Dugongs moving
Australian dugong swimming
Dugong with scuba diving
Dugong eating seagrass
Dugong in Red Sea