Dugongs join manatees in the order Sirenia, the group of animals that, some say, inspired tales of mermaids. With their grayish-brown skin and whiskered face, dugongs resemble manatees, but are found on the other side of the world.
Dugongs grow to lengths of 8 to 10 feet and weights of up to 1,100 pounds. Dugongs are gray or brown in coloration and have a whale-like tail with two flukes. They have a rounded, whiskered snout and two forelimbs.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Sirenia
- Family: Dugongidae
- Genus: Dugong
- Species: dugon
Habitat and Distribution
Dugongs live in warm, coastal waters from East Africa to Australia.
Dugongs are primarily herbivores, eating seagrasses and algae. Crabs have also been found in the stomachs of some dugongs.
Dugongs have tough pads on their lower lip to help them grab vegetation, and 10 to 14 teeth.
The dugong's breeding season occurs throughout the year, although dugongs will delay breeding if they do not get enough to eat. Once a female becomes pregnant, her gestation period is about 1 year. After that time, she usually gives birth to one calf, which is 3 to 4 feet long. Calves nurse for about 18 months.
The lifespan of the dugong is estimated at 70 years.
The dugong is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. They are hunted for their meat, oil, skin, bones, and teeth. They are also threatened by entanglement in fishing gear and coastal pollution.
Dugong population sizes are not well known. Since dugongs are long-lived animals with a low reproduction rate, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "even a slight reduction in adult survivorship as a result of habitat loss, disease, hunting or incidental drowning in nets, can result in a chronic decline."
- Fox, D. 1999. Dugong dugon (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 10, 2009.
- Marsh, H. 2002. Dugong: Status Reports and Action Plans for Countries and Territories. (Online). United Nations Environment Programme. Accessed November 10, 2009.
- Marsh, H. 2008. Dugong dugon. (Online). IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. Accessed November 10, 2009.