Dugong is a large marine mammal, together with manatees, they belong to order of Sirenia, which today has only four living species.
Dugongs can weigh as much as 380 kg and reach up to 3 m in length. They can live long, oldest recorded specimen reached age of 73. They have several nick names like Sea Cow, Sea Pig, Lady of the Sea, the last one comes from the Malay word duyung. Dugongs have been on the hunters list for thousands of years due their meat and oil. Closest relative to dugong, the Steller’s sea cow was hunted down in the 18th century. Today authorities are trying to save dugongs with different conservation and protection projects.
In some cultures they are legendary for their medicinal purposes. In Southern China catching dugong was thought to bring bad luck.
Did you know that actually dugongs are considered to be the inspiration for Mermaids?
Dugong populates more than 37 countries throughout Indo-Pacific. Biggest population you can find is from coast of Northern Australia. The sea of Trang province in the Andaman Sea is home to dugong as the area is rich with sea grass.
Dugongs have few natural predators, although animals such as crocodiles, orcas, and sharks pose a threat to the young.
Dugongs are called as “sea cows” because their diet consists mainly of sea-grass. Occasionally they eat jellyfish, sea squirts, and shellfish. Dugong can spend all their life in sea water, without having need for fresh water.
Due to their poor eyesight, dugongs often use smell to locate edible plants. They dig up an entire plant and then shake it to remove the sand before eating it. Sometimes they collect first a pile of plants before eating it. The muscular upper lip is used to dig the plants out, witch leaves furrows in the sand in their path. They may travel long distances to find food. As they need a lot of sea grass then usually we can’t find many dugongs in the same area. They spend most of their lives solitary or in pairs.
Dugongs may stay under water up to six minutes, dive down to 39 meters, but most probably you can meet dugong at depth of around 10 meters. Most of the dugongs in Thailand we can find in Trang province (2013 about 110-125 individuals), where a much smaller population lives in Gulf of Thailand.