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).
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.