Critter of the Week: Dugong

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Sirenia
Family: Dugongidae
Genus: Dugong
Species: D. dugon
Binomial Name: Dugong dugon

Dugong Range

Dugongs live in the warm waters around Africa, Australia, and parts of the Pacific Ocean. Dugongs may look like manatees; however, many things make them different. For example, a manatee’s tail is large and paddle-shaped, while a dugong’s looks more like a whale’s tail with tail flukes. Also, some species of manatees have nails on their limbs and dugongs do not.
Dugongs can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds! This heavy weight is what helps keep it submerged underwater. A dugong’s lungs not only keep it in the horizontal position during swimming as the lungs are positioned towards the back, but it is also how the dugong breathes. In fact, the dugong will have to swim to the surface every six minutes to get oxygen.
The dugong is the only marine mammal that is strictly herbivorous. They have poor eyesight so they will usually use their sense of smell or scanning the floor with its lip to find plants. Its large upper lip is used to bristle sea grass, and they can eat up to 88 pounds of seaweed daily! Before eating the sea grass, the dugong will shake its head to eliminate the sand in the grass.
Even though dugongs are social animals, they are usually found alone or in pairs since the scarce amount of seagrass can’t feed the large group. To communicate in the group, the dugongs will use sounds such as whistles, chips, barks, or other sounds that can echo underwater. Herds of dugongs can go up to over 100!
Dugongs won’t reach sexual maturity until they are between 9-15 years old. After they mate, the females will be pregnant for a little over a year and give birth to one calf. After giving birth, the mother dugong will help the calf up to the surface to take its first breath! The calf will stay with its mother for 1.5 years before venturing out on its own.