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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Dugong Dugong dugon

Unlike manatees, the dugong is essentially a marine animal, grazing in seagrass beds in warm, shallow waters.

The dugong's body is blimp-shaped, like that of manatees, but it has a crescent-shaped tail and a broad head with a large, U-shaped upper lip. Part of its diet consists of buried stems or rhizomes, which it collects by nuzzling its way into the sediment, while steadying itself with its front flippers. Dugongs feed in scattered herds, which may contain more than a hundred animals.

Their main predators are sharks, but they are more threatened by hunting in many places. Dugongs are already extinct in the Mediterranean, where they may have existed until classical times, and they is under threat in many parts of the Indian Ocean. However, dugongs appear to be thriving around the coastline of Australia, which is home to over half the world’s dugongs.

Dugongs and Steller’s Sea Cows

A close relative of the dugong, Steller’s sea cow lived in the icy waters of the Bering Sea, feeding on kelp and other seaweeds. It was hunted to extinction in 1768, 27 years after it was first recorded by the German naturalist Georg Steller (1709–46).

Dugongzoom image
  • Order Sirenia
  • Length 8–13 ft (2.5–4 m)
  • Weight 550–1,900 lb (250–900 kg)
  • Habitat Coastal shallows, lagoons, estuaries
  • Distribution Indian Ocean and western Pacific, from East Africa to South Pacific islands
Dugong habitat mapzoom image