The dugong, or ‘sea cow’, is adapted for life in the sea with a streamlined body, wedge-shaped tail and strong flippers. As air-breathing mammals, dugongs must return to the surface every 5-10 minutes.
Feeding is the dugong’s principal activity – they consume up to 25kg of seagrass per day. Frightened animals can make a whistling sound while calves can give bleat-like cries.
Dugongs typically have a 70-year lifespan. They are either solitary or socialise in loose herds of typically up to 30 animals, although herds of several hundred animals have been reported.
After a 13-month gestation, females give birth to a single calf. Reproductive and population growth rates are very slow, as a female will only give birth every 2½ to 5 years.
*International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species
Data not available
Herbivorous – seagrass
Coastal waters, shallow bays, mangrove channels and the lee of inshore islands
In 37 countries, including tropical and sub-tropical island and coastal waters in the Indian Ocean, the Indonesian archipelago and the southwestern Pacific around the Philippines
Dugongs face a high risk of extinction in the wild, due to a number of factors including accidental gill netting, hunting for their meat and oil, and habitat and food loss.
Like all marine mammals, it can be extremely difficult to adequately care for dugongs in captivity – they suffer badly in confinement and have severely reduced lifespans.
In partnership with Sea Sense we work to protect dugongs (among other marine species, such as sea turtles) in Tanzania. Sea Sense also liaises closely with coastal communities to enhance the conservation status of dugongs and their habitats. Additional activity includes promoting sustainable fisheries, enhancing low-impact marine ecotourism and providing environmental education and outreach.