Dugong was discovered in 1776 and was commonly known as sea cow and biologically known as Dugong dugon. It is a marine mammal and only living species of Dugongidae family. They are found in the tropical and subtropical waters. And commonly found in Australian and Indonesian waters whereas the large population of Dugong is spread around Northern Australia.
Manatee and Dugong look similar but it is the tail which differentiates the both physically. Though they are closely related and look similar in appearance, the Dugong has a fork-shaped tail and Manatee has a flat tail.
Now this species has been listed as critically endangered due to fragmentation of its habitat. They are usually killed for meat and oil.
Fully grown Dugong are three meters long and weighs about 400kg. It has a cylindrical body with fork-like tail and has smooth grey coloured skin. Horseshoe like lip with mobile muzzle makes it easy forge on its prey. They usually have slow body movements.
Very small eyes make its eyesight very limited and have ears which lack pinna present on the either side of its face. Nose is present at the top of its face which is usually closed with valves. Unlike any other manatees, Dugong has a very long spine with about 57 to 60 vertebrae. It has large intestine to digest sea grass. And it is usually found at the bottom of the sea due to its weight.
It is widely spread in the waters of the Australian coast. About 10% of these species are found in the shark bay. Any water bodies with moderate temperature and seagrass meadows are the perfect habitat for Dugong. And they are completely marine animals, unlike the other manatees which require fresh water.
It is also found in seagrass beds of Indo-Pacific Ocean. It is housed in warm waters of Japan, Red sea, and the Philippines.
Dugong feeds upon seagrass, algae and other plants in the seabed.
Dugong attains their maturity in between eight to eighteen years. The maturity age of these animals is longer when compared to other mammals. The females reproduce only a few times in their lifetime.
The gestation period is about 13-15 months and ends up giving birth to one or two rarely. The females prefer shallow waters to give birth and as soon as baby Dugong are born they are pushed to the surface of the water for breathing. And they weigh around 30kg and are 4 ft. tall when born. The young ones stay with their mother till it attains maturity.
Huge killer fishes and sharks are its biggest threats. And the sea grass grew in the bed of ocean also pose a danger to this animal. There are many weeds and poisonous plants grown along with the seagrass which causes death on consumption.
Interesting facts about Dugong
- Dugong has a lifespan of 70 years and sometimes may be more.
- The skin colour of Dugong can change due to the growth of algae.
- Dugong and manatees are the only herbivorous marine animals alive at present.
- It usually swims very slowly like around 6 miles per hour.
- After attaining puberty males develop tusk whereas females do not have the tusk.
- Dugong reaches the surface of water every six minutes to take in oxygen as it breaths through lungs.
- It is a very independent animal and sometimes moves around with small groups.