Dugong

"Dugong" by Naomi Baker (digital)

 
I picked the dugong because they are adorable and herbivorous gentle sea elephants that similar to humans, live long lives and do not have many children in that life span.
— Naomi Baker

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Habitat

Dugongs prefer the warm waters along the coastline of the Red Sea and the Indian and Pacific oceans, spanning from eastern Africa to Australia. They are usually found in shallower water, around ten meters deep, and are able to stay completely submerged for around six minutes. They can, however, reach depths of close to 40 meters in order to feed.

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Family life

A single calf is born to the female dugong after a full year’s gestation period. The offspring will remain with its mother until it is around a year and a half old, at which point it will go out on its own. Dugongs are social animals and are primarily found in groups. The size of these groups varies greatly, anywhere between two and 200 individuals. Communication between individuals occurs primarily through sound and vision.

Lifespan

Dugongs can live up to 70 years in the wild.

Hunting Habits/Diet

Dugongs are constant grazers, and completely herbivorous. They eat both during the day and at night, and their preferred food is seagrass. Their metabolism is slow and, therefore, it is advantageous for their food source to be easily digestible in order to better assimilate the nutrients. When seagrass is limited, they supplement their diet with marine algae and sometimes also eat invertebrates such as shellfish and sea squirts. 

Population

Population data for the dugong is extrapolated from studies of coastal Australia and results in estimations of around 70,000 individuals in the area. This is more than likely greater than half of the world population. The Persian Gulf may host around 7,000. The IUCN status of the dugong is Vulnerable. The total number in Australian waters may exceed 80,000 and is probably more than half the world’s total. The second largest distribution, around 7,000 individuals, is in the Persian Gulf.

Fun Fact

Dugongs may have provided fodder for the imagination behind ancient seafaring tales of mermaids and sirens. Despite being a sea mammal, they are genetically more similar to elephants than they are to dolphins or whales.

Why are They Endangered?

Dugongs are threatened by a wide variety of human activities. They are inadvertently caught in fishing nets, but also hunted for meat in countries with diminished fishing stock and dwindling economies. The destruction of their habitat and the effects of improper sewage disposal and agricultural activities can negatively impact the availability of sea grass. Water pollution in general can have a deleterious effect on the dugong as well as climate change and the warming of the oceans.

Status

Vulnerable

Sources

Dugong (dugong dugon) or seacow in the Red Sea.