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What is a Dugong?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

The dugong is a large marine mammal in the order Sirenia, which they share with the manatees. They are not manatees, however. The dugong and the manatee are large-bodied, herbivorous mammals, but while the manatee spends some of its time in freshwater, the dugong spends its entire life in the sea.

The dugong lives primarily in the South Pacific and Indian oceans, where it has access to the sea grasses that make up its diet. These grasses often grow in bay areas or near mangrove forests. The adult dugong will be nearly nine feet long (2.7 meters) and may weigh from 550-650 pounds (250-300 kilograms).

Unlike the manatee, which can live in freshwater, the dugong spends life at sea.
Unlike the manatee, which can live in freshwater, the dugong spends life at sea.

A dugong will mate once every seven years or so, and will usually give birth to a single calf, after about one year’s gestation. Calves usually stay with their mothers for about one year. The dugong is a social animal, and is usually found in family groups of three to six animals. Larger groups were more common when the animal was more plentiful. Males do not generally live with the groups, which usually consist of females and their calves.

In nature, the dugong’s natural predators are limited to large animals such as large sharks, killer whales an saltwater crocodiles, due to its size. The dugong’s numbers are declining in part because freshwater sources for drinking are being destroyed. They have also been hit by motorized boats. Their infrequent reproduction means they do not replenish their numbers very quickly.

The dugong has always been hunted by native peoples for its meat and oil. However, the native hunting has not been the main cause of declining numbers. The dugong is considered endangered and is a protected species in many countries. Man has not merely hunted the dugong, but has also destroyed its habitat. Scientists are looking for ways to help the dugong survive, with little success in the short-term, unfortunately. However, with increased awareness of the importance of every species, perhaps the dugong can be preserved.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a dugong?

A dugong is a marine mammal that belongs to the order Sirenia, which also includes manatees. It is the only strictly marine herbivorous mammal, feeding primarily on seagrasses. Dugongs are found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific. They are known for their large size, fluked tail, and distinctive snout.

How does the dugong differ from a manatee?

While both dugongs and manatees are sirenians, they differ in habitat and physical characteristics. Dugongs inhabit marine environments, whereas manatees are often found in freshwater. The dugong's tail is fluked like a whale's, while manatees have a paddle-shaped tail. Additionally, dugongs have a more pronounced, dolphin-like snout compared to the shorter snout of manatees.

What do dugongs eat and how do they feed?

Dugongs are herbivores, feeding almost exclusively on seagrass. They graze on the seafloor, using their bristled, sensitive snouts to locate and uproot the grass. According to studies, an adult dugong can consume up to 40 kilograms of seagrass daily, playing a crucial role in the coastal marine ecosystem by maintaining healthy seagrass beds.

Are dugongs endangered?

Yes, dugongs are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their populations are threatened by habitat loss, fishing-related fatalities, water pollution, and illegal hunting. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and mitigate human-related threats to ensure their survival.

How do dugongs reproduce and how long do they live?

Dugongs have a slow reproduction rate, with females giving birth to a single calf after a gestation period of about 13-15 months. The calves stay with their mothers for up to 18 months. Dugongs can live up to 70 years, but their long lifespan is threatened by human activities and environmental changes.

What role do dugongs play in their ecosystem?

Dugongs play a vital role in their marine ecosystem as major grazers of seagrass, which helps maintain the health and diversity of these habitats. Their feeding activity promotes seagrass growth and productivity, supports a variety of marine life, and contributes to the balance of the ecosystem. The presence of dugongs can indicate a healthy marine environment.

Discussion Comments


I feel bad, and I would like to learn more about the Dugong, not just because it was for a science project, but for personal reasons.


wonder what a dugong looks like?


Dugongs need to be left alone.


can dugongs live near people?

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    • Unlike the manatee, which can live in freshwater, the dugong spends life at sea.
      Unlike the manatee, which can live in freshwater, the dugong spends life at sea.