The Dugong or otherwise known as the ‘sea cow’ is a mammal that lives exclusively underwater and has close genetic ties to the elephant despite its appearance. The Dugong feeds only on sea grass found on the ocean and this is one of the reasons the Dugong is currently classed as vulnerable due to human development destroying natural sea grasses.
Steeped in myth, the Dugong is widely believed to be that creature behind the first sightings of mermaids back when the Dugong was unknown to humans. The fishermen who would once see this amazing animal and dub it as a magical creature such as a mermaid are not party responsible for its decline in numbers due to getting caught in fishing nets.
The Dugong can be found across the Indo-Pacific oceans most commonly in the waters north of Australia. The preferred habitat of the Dugong is that of coastal shallows where sea grass is abundant. It is very uncommon to find a Dugong in freshwater.
The Dugong shares characteristics with elephants and other marine mammals with skin that is of a gray color and laden with rough hairs. Its skin is also very tough and in places wrinkly like that of an elephant, smoothing over on the underside. The front limbs of the Dugong are adapted for swimming and are a paddle shape, this adaption features in the tail also which resembles a tail similar to that of a whale.
The female of the species are generally larger than the males and the males can be identified by their prominent tusks which develop when the male matures. On occasion this can be slightly confusing because some older mature females have been known to develop tusks.
As the Dugong’s feed exclusively on sea grass their mouth has developed to open downwards and has a powerful upper lip which covers the entire mouth. The adaption is perfect for bottom feeding.
Most of the time Dugong’s can been seen alone or in pairs however past reports have stated much larger groups used to exist, whereas in today’s world you’re only likely to see a 100 strong group in an area abundant with sea grass. Interestingly Dugong’s move very slowly despite their advanced limbs and need to come up for air every couple of minutes which is unusual for a marine mammal.
Sexual maturity in both sexes can develop between between the age of 6 and 16 years and breeding takes place throughout the year once sexual maturity has developed. After a successful breeding the female with gestate for 12 – 14 months before giving birth to usually one calf. It can take over a year for the young to become fully independant, however this is no issue for the Dugong’s as they can live up to 70 years.