Sea Creature Feature of the Week: Dugong

SCIENCE |Though it looks a lot like a manatee, this is actually a sea cow, which is also known as the dugong. Some differences between the two mammals are that the dugong has a dolphin-like tail and is entirely a maritime animal. Dugongs are herbivores that feed on sea grass off the shores of the Indian and Western Pacific seas. These creatures may grow to be up to 10 feet long and weigh over 800 pounds.

Adult dugongs have no natural predators, although juveniles may be consumed by killer whales, sharks, and saltwater crocodiles. They may nurse their children for up to a year and a half, and adults can live for up to 70 years. Their brains are thought to be modest for their size since they do not need to develop intricate hunting techniques.

Dugongs are the sole members of the Dugongidae family, and manatees are their closest living relatives. An elephant is the closest living relative that dwells on land. Male dugongs develop tusks when they reach maturity, whilst females get tusks later in life.

The IUCN Red List classified the Dugong as vulnerable in 2015, citing a declining population trend. Populations are reduced in certain areas and regionally extinct in others. Hazards differ depending on population, but the main dangers include inadvertent capture in fishing gear, threats to seagrass, chemical pollution, climate change, habitat loss due to human settlement, boat strikes, and hunting. There are conservation areas and protected areas in place.