Dugong

Dugong

Sea cow

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Dugong dugon
Population size
85,000
Life Span
70 yrs
TOP SPEED
22 km/h
WEIGHT
150-400 kg
LENGTH
2.7-3 m

The dugong is an aquatic mammal with thick, tough, and smooth skin. The skin color of newborn dugongs is pale cream, darkening as they age, becoming deep slate gray on the sides and dorsum. The body of the dugong is sparsely covered with hair, and the muzzle exhibits bristles. The upper lip is cleft and muscular, hanging over the mouth, which is curved downwards. At first sight, dugongs look like whales, but they have evolved independently. They also develop tusks, which are visible in adult males. The dugong is also known as the 'sea cow' due to grazing on seagrass, although the closest relatives of this animal are not cows but elephants.

He

Herbivore

Gr

Graminivore

Aq

Aquatic

Pr

Precocial

Na

Natatorial

No

Nomadic

Vi

Viviparous

Gr

Grazing

Po

Polyandry

So

Social

He

Herding

No

Not a migrant

D

starts with

We

Weird Animals
(collection)

Distribution

Geography

Dugongs are distributed across the Indo-Pacific region, where they live in highly endangered and nearly extinct populations. They are found from the east coast of Africa to Vanuatu and other islands of the western Pacific. The highest concentration of dugongs is off the coast of northern Australia, whereas the second largest population occurs in the Arabian Gulf. Feeding upon seagrass, dugong prefers living in shallow and protected coastal, tropical waters. They generally inhabit salty waters and can tolerate brackish waters but rarely occur in freshwater.

Dugong habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Dugongs are social animals but generally occur alone or in pairs of a mother and calf. However, they are known to form large groups of several hundred animals. As semi-nomadic animals, dugongs may either travel huge distances in search of specific seagrass or live in the same area throughout their lives. They usually have to travel when their main food, seagrass, is in scarcity. When suitable seagrass is depleted, they move on, looking for new areas of feeding. Due to living in turbid waters, these animals are extremely hard to come across unless they are disturbed. Dugongs are shy in their nature and when disturbed, they quickly flee. When they don't flee, they usually explore the vessel or diver from a distance without coming closer.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Dugongs are herbivores (graminivores) and primarily feed upon seagrass. They will occasionally eat invertebrates such as jellyfish, sea squirts, and shellfish. Populations in Moreton Bay, Australia, feed on invertebrates such as polychaetes or marine algae.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
year-round
PREGNANCY DURATION
13-14 months
BABY CARRYING
1 calf
INDEPENDENT AGE
6-9 years
FEMALE NAME
cow
MALE NAME
bull
BABY NAME
calf

Dugongs are polyandrous, which means that one female has an exclusive relationship with two or more males. Dugongs may breed at any time of year. Males of this species are in constant search of receptive females. Reproduction usually depends on location, though they are known to have an extremely low birth rate, yielding a single young with intervals of 2.5-7 years. The gestation period is quite long, lasting for 13-14 months. Newborn dugongs are able to consume seagrass. However, it's maternal milk that helps them grow up at a fast rate. Young are nursed for more than 18 months, remaining close to their mother and typically riding on her back. Sexual maturity is reached within 6-12 years old in males and at 6 years old in females, although females of this species usually first give birth within 6-17 years old. Becoming mature, young dugongs rush to leave their mother, looking for mates.

Population

Population threats

One of the biggest threats to the population of this species is hunting for meat and oil. Dugongs are often incidentally caught in nets, targeting fish and sharks. This by-catch leads to high mortality because of insufficient oxygen supply. Ships, boats, and other vessels may strike these animals down throughout their range. Another notable threat is habitat disturbance in a form of water pollution, which leads to the destruction of seagrass beds that are the main food source for these animals. And finally, their population cannot increase due to the extremely low birth rate of this species. On the other hand, dugongs cannot be bred in captivity.

Population number

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the overall dugong population is estimated to be about 85,000 animals, living in the waters of northern Australia, from Shark Bay (Western Australia) to Moreton Bay (Queensland). Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The dugong is the only sirenian in its range, which spans the waters of some 40 countries and territories throughout the Indo-West Pacific. These animals are called 'sirenians' since their mammary glands and nursing habits are similar to those of humans'. Hence, sailors often call dugongs mermaids or sirens.
  • The upper lips of these animals are very flexible, helping them snatch entire plants. After feeding, dugongs leave so-called 'feeding trails' - furrows, made on the seafloor.
  • Immediately after birth, female dugongs push their offspring to the surface to breathe.
  • In order to breathe, dugongs are known to stand on their tails, pointing their heads out of the water.
  • The dugong appeared about 50-60 million years ago, evolving from an elephant-like animal, entering the water.
  • Dugongs usually shake their head to clean seagrass from sand and only then swallow it.

References

1. Dugong Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dugong
2. Dugong on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/6909/0

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