The dugong is a large marine mammal, sometimes refered to as a “Seacow”. They are considered to be the inspiration behind the myth of Mermaids. Dugongs are large grey mammals which spend their entire lives in the sea. Though Acquatic they breathe air through their lungs and give birth to live babies rather than lay eggs like fish.
The dugong can reach up to 3 metres in length and weigh almost 500 kilograms. They have a thick layer of fat giving them a distinctly rotund posture, small paddle-like fins positioned far forward on the body and a broad, flattened, powerful tail that resembles the tail of whale.
The dugong has thick, smooth skin that is a pale cream colour at birth, but darkens dorsally and laterally to brownish-to-dark-grey with age. The colour can also change due to the growth ofalgae on the skin. The skin of a dugong appears smooth, but a really close view reveals a rough surface covered in pits from which grow short, thick hairs. dugongs have 2 nostrils near the top of their heads on a “fleshy lip”, which can curl up to make breathing easier on the surface. Itssnout is sharply downturned, an adaptation forgrazing and uprootingbenthic seagrasses.
Dugongs can dive for up to six minutes on the same breath and rest on their tail to breathe with their heads held above the water.
The dugong can dive to a maximum depth of 39 metres, although the majority spend their lives at a depth of 10 metres.
Communication between dugongs comprises of a series of whistles, chirps barks and other sounds that echo underwater.
Due to their poor eyesight, dugongs often use smell to locate edible plants. They also have a strong tactile sense, and feel their surroundings with their long sensitive bristles
Dugong are slow-moving and have little protection against predators. They have few natural predators, although animals such as Crocodiles, Killer Whales, and Sharks pose a threat to the young, who tend to hide behind their mothers when in danger.
Dugong males have ivory tusks used for fighting during male-male rivalry as well for uprooting seagrasses.
Dugongs are sometimes called “Sea Cows”, because they graze on seagrasses. These marine plants look like grass growing on a sandy sea floor in shallow, warm water.Dugongs eat large amounts of seagrass, leaving behind feeding trails of bare sand and uprooted seagrass, they have also been known to consume algae and invertebrates such as jellyfish sea squirts and shellfish when a supply of seagrass has been scarce.
Female dugongs give birth underwater to a single calf every three to seven years. They give birth in extremely shallow waters enabling the baby dugong to swim to the surface to take its first breath. Baby dugongs are about 100 to 120 centimetres long and weigh 20 to 30 kilograms at birth. The calf stays with its mother, drinking milk from her teats and following close by until 18 to 24 months of age.
Dugongs reach adult size between 9 and 17 years of age, and reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 to 18 and have a lifespan similar to humans, if left alone.
Where to Find Dugongs
Dugongs swim in warm shallow coastal waters were they find protection from large waves and storms. the largest dugong concentrations typically occurring in wide, shallow, protected areas such asbays,mangrovechannels and thelee sides of largeinshoreislands dugongs
Although they are social animals, they are usually solitary or found in pairs due to the inability of seagrass beds to support large populations. Gatherings of hundreds of dugongs sometimes happen, Because they are shy, and do not approach humans, little is known aboutdugong behaviour
Dugongs are found in warm coastal waters from the western Pacific Ocean to the eastern coast of Africa
Here at Wicked Diving – We find them throughout the Komodo Park and surrounding islands and bays. They are rarely found in the waters of Thailand, though they do exist.
The dugong has been hunted for thousands of years for itsmeat, skin, bones andoil. Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of population decline include hunting, habitat degradation, and fishing-related fatalities. Due to its slow rate of reproduction, and long life span, the dugong is especially vulnerable to extinction.