Dugongs are enormous, vegetarian marine mammals, reaching as big as 10 feet (3 meters) long and weighing up to 1000 pounds (454 kilograms). Also called sea cows, dugongs graze day and night on underwater grasses, rooting and chomping every bit like cows, and they sometimes gather in herds of as many as a hundred animals, although they usually live alone or in pairs. They are more closely related to elephants than cows, however, and adult dugongs even have short tusks.
The dugong is built for grazing these underwater grasses — it has a long snout that points downward and a strong, moveable upper lip, enabling it to uproot and tear the grass. It also has and extremely large lungs and the ability to keep its nostrils closed underwater, enabling it to stay under for up to 6 minutes at a time, and a heavy skeleton to help keep it from floating off while it feeds. Since the grasses it feeds on are so hard to digest, the dugong has extremely large intenstines — as thick as a fire hose and almost 98 feet (30 meters) long.
Female dugongs have pectoral mammary glands that they nurse their young with, which led early European sailors to imagine them as mermaids. This was then confused with the Sirens of Greek mythology, which led to the naming of the order Sirenia, which includes manatees as well as dugongs.
The dugong’s large size, slow movements and coastal habitats have made it susceptible to danger from human activity. It was historically hunted for its meat, oil and hide, and though this practice is less widespread than it used to be, habitat loss and fishing-related deaths continue to contribute to the decline in the dugong’s population. It is therefore listed as a Vulnerable species.
Dugongs are featured in the following book:
25 Whales, Dolphins and other Sea Mammals
The YouTube video playlist below contains videos about Dugongs. Details of the videos featured are underneath.
- Dugong by zuidwijk
- Amy’s Animal Facts: Dugongs by amyetta619
- Dugong Searches for Food by EarthRangersBBtW
- Manatees and Dugongs by Digiheadz