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Dugongs, also known as sea cows, are marine mammals of medium size. They
spend their entire life in the sea. It is the only strictly marine herbivorous mammal.
They can be found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the
Red Sea (especially in the area of Marsa Alam), Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
Dugongs are related to manatees. They are similar in appearance and behavior –
though the tail of the dugong is like the tail of a whale. They have no dorsal fin and
the forelimbs or flippers are like paddles. Sea cows can stay under water for about 6
minutes before returning to the surface for breathing. They have a lifespan of 70
years or more. The size of a dugong can be until 3 meters and they weight between
150 and 400 kg. Their thick and smooth skin has a brownish-grey color the only hair
they have is concentrated around the muzzle. All dugongs grow tusks that only break
the skin and become visible in mature male. The large rounded snout ends in a cleft,
muscular upper lip hanging over the downturned month. These mammals have a
long large intestine to aid digestion. They have a poor eyesight but a very good
Their habitats are mostly in coastal wide, shallow and protected areas such as bays,
mangrove channels and large inshore islands which are rich in sea grass meadows.
Dugongs graze on underwater sea grass meadows day and night. Dugongs have a
low metabolic rate that allows them to exist on a herbivorous diet. Although sea grass
meadows are at depths of 1 to 5 meters, dugongs can feed at depths of up to 33
meters. Sea grass is the main food for dugongs but they will also eat some algae.
Dugongs spend much of their time alone or in pairs. Sometimes large groups of
dugongs can be seen in large sea grass meadows.
Dugongs have a low rate of reproduction and therefore vulnerable to extinction.
Female dugongs give birth to just one calf once every five years after 13 – 14 month
of pregnancy. The baby dugong is born underwater in warm shallow water and the
calf is about 1 meter and weights about 20 kg. The mother helps her young to reach
the surface for its first breath. A young dugong stays with its mother for about 18
months. Dugong calves reach their full size when they are 15 years old.
Some believe that dugongs were the inspiration for ancient seafaring tales like
mermaids and sirens.
Dugongs became an important tourist attraction. Tourists can swim, snorkel or dive
with them.
Because dugongs are slow-moving, they have little protection against predators.
Being large animals, only large sharks, saltwater crocodiles and killer whales are a
real danger for them.
These animals are an easy target for hunters and this for their meat, oil, skin, bones
and teeth. Dugongs are also threatened by sea grass loss or degradation because of
coastal development or industrial activities that cause water pollution. They also
become often victims of accidental entanglement in fishing nets. Dugongs are
endangered and protected by law now.
That's why delegates from 23 of the 40 countries that are a home to the dugongs
came together in Abu Dhabi to find better ways to protect the dugong and their sea
grass habitats worldwide.
Dugongs play an important ecological role in coastal marine ecosystems and the
status of dugong populations in an area can be used as an indicator of general
ecosystem health.

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