Is a Dugong a Manatee? (Dugong Facts)


Dugong Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the Dugong species is the Dugong Dugon.

What Does a Dugong Look Like?

The dugong is the medium-sized marine mammal that is also known as ‘sea cow’. It is one of the four living species of Sirenia order, which includes three species of manatees. The dugong is the only strictly herbivorous marine mammal. It is also the only Sirenia in its range that extends the water of around 40 countries and territories throughout the Indo-West Pacific. 

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More Information About Dugong

The body of the dugong is large with a cylindrical shape that tapers at both ends. At birth, it has thick and smooth skin that is pale color, but it gets darken from brownish to grey with age. The color of these species cam change due to the growth of algae on the skin. An adult weighs more than 550 pounds and less than 1,985 pounds. The largest individual recorded was 13.32 feet long and weighed around 2,240 pounds. Females tend to be larger than males. 

Dugongs have flat tail and flippers that are similar to dolphins. Their forelimbs are paddle-like flippers that help them in turning and slowing. The species are more closely related to an elephant, they have evolved 50 to 60 million years ago when an elephant-like creature entered the water. Dugong has a vast mouth with an upper lip designed for bristling seagrass. 

Where are Dugongs Found? 

Dugong’s habitats in warm waters around the coast with large numbers fixed in wide and shallow protected bays. They are found in warm coastal waters from the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean from East Africa to the red sea and Australia. They are also seen in the Persian Gulf which is the second-largest Dugong population in the world. 

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What do Dugongs Eat?

Dugongs are referred to as sea cows as their diet includes mainly of sea grass. While eating they can ingest the whole plant including the roots. A wide range of seagrass has been found in dugong stomach contents and evidence exists that they will feed on algae when sea grass is scared. However, being completely herbivorous they will occasionally feed on invertebrates such as jellyfish, sea squirts, and shellfish. Dugongs in Australia are omnivorous feeding on marine algae when the supply of grasses decreases.  

Due to poor eyesight the species often use smell to locate the edible plants. They also have a strong tactile sense (ability to grasp) and feel their surroundings with their sensitive bristles. They dig up the entire plant and before eating they shake it to remove sand. Dugongs have flexible and muscular upper lip that is used to dig out the plants. 

Dugong Species:

The dugong reaches the sexual maturity older as compared to other marine mammals, mostly between the ages of 8 to 18. The mating behavior varies between the populations located in different areas. In some areas, a male will establish a territory which females will visit. While in other areas, a male will try to impress the female while defending the territory, this practice is known as Lekking. In some other regions many males will mate with the same female.

  • The gestation period in dugong females lasts between 13 to 15 months, usually delivering a single calf.
  • The birth of the young ones occurs in very shallow water where the mothers are almost on the shores.
  • When the young dugong is born the mother pushes it to the surface to take a breath.
  • The newly born are 4 feet long and weigh around 66 pounds.
  • The calves are nursed for 14 to 18 months, however, they have seen begin to feed on seagrasses. When the calf gets matured it will leave his mother. 

What is the Difference Between a Dugong and a Manatee?

  • Many people get confused between a dugong and a manatee and often ask is a dugong a manatee? But both the creatures are not the same.
  • We have seen that dugong spend their entire life in shallow, protected water such as bays and mangrove swamps.
  • While manatees inherit in the marshy areas of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, Amazon Basin, and West Africa.
  • Another difference is about their tails, dugongs have tail flukes with pointed projections like a whale.
  • On the other hand manatees have large, horizontal, paddle-like tail with only one lobe.
  • Manatees have basic nails on their forelimbs whereas dugong don’t have any nails.
  • Other than these distinguishes, both the species also vary in respect of mouth, teeth, weight, and offspring. 

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Are Dugong Endangered?

According to the IUCN red list, dugongs are classified as vulnerable. Dugongs are threatened by seagrass habitat loss because of the coastal development or industrial activities that cause water pollution. However, the dugong is protected by law but their population is gradually decreasing because of the slow reproduction and hunting for their meat and oil. Dugong species can survive up to 70 years in captivity.