Dugongs are more closely related to elephants than to other marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.
They are sometimes referred to as ‘sea cows’ because they feed almost exclusively on sea grass. Dugongs have long been associated with myths and legends – the Ark of the Covenant was reputedly protected by dugong hide, and early sightings have led to the legend of mermaids. Although commercial hunting of dugongs is now banned, the species may still be at risk from traditional hunting and destruction of sea grass beds by human activities. The majority of their threats are from human activities; such as incidental capture in fishing gear, boat strikes, damage or modification to habitat from trawling or human settlements on coasts, chemical pollution, and climate change. Through their large and fragmented range, it may be that distinct populations may constitute genetically distinct subspecies or separate species, highlighting the importance to work to conserve all populations. The dugong is the only living representative of its family Dugongidae, and one of four extant species within the entire of the Sirenia order, the other being manatees.
- Order: Sirenia
- Family: Dugongidae
- Population: Unknown
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 240-270 cm
- Weight: 230-360kg
Relict populations of the species survive in coastal waters throughout the Indo-Pacific region, from the east coast of Africa to Vanuatu in the western Pacific. Today, most dugongs are found in northern Australian waters between Shark Bay in Western Australia, and Moreton Bay in Queensland.
Habitat and Ecology
The live in shallow coastal waters of tropical seas, where there is an abundance of sea grass; which is the majority of their diet. It is also regularly observed in deeper offshore waters in areas where the continental shelf is wide, shallow and protected. They are more strictly marine, than manatees, and are seldom found in freshwater.