The dugong (Dugong dugon), from the Malay duyung, is a species of herbivorous marine mammals with a streamlined body, living on the coasts of the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea (Marsa Alam, Qseir). It is part, with the three species of manatees, of the order Sirenians.
Since the disappearance of Steller’s Rhytin, the dugong and the manatee are the only two remaining species of the order Sirenians.
Despite an impressive build, the dugong is a discreet animal with graceful swimming. A herbivore, it spends a large part of its time grazing seagrass beds. It is thus often referred to as a sea cow. This characteristic makes it an exclusively coastal animal. Today, the species is threatened.
This herbivorous marine mammal, also called sea cow, characterized by an elongated tooth in the front of the face, measures around 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) and can reach 900 kg (2000 lbs).
The caudal fin of the dugong, unlike that of the manatee, in the shape of a rounded paddle, is triangular in shape and has a median groove. In this it resembles the tail of cetaceans.
These animals are herbivores, and graze on vegetation found on shallow bottoms and generally very close to the coasts where they live. An adult needs about 40 kilograms of food every day.
The animal lives alone or in small groups. His cry is barbarism. They say he barbarouffe.
In 2009, Akab Shrine, made up of the remains of around 40 dugongs, was discovered in Umm al-Quwain, United Arab Emirates. It has been dated 5,140 BC.
Threats and protection
Even more than the manatee, which belongs to the same order of sirenians, this species is endangered. She is frequently injured by the propellers of motor boats and sometimes hunted for her meat. Its coastal habitats are shrinking, in particular due to tourism, pollution and coastal urbanization.
The reproduction rate is low – one young every four or five years – and sexual maturity is late: around 10 years old.
World populations are falling rapidly.
History and legends
Dugongs have long been mistaken for the mermaids of mythology.The oldest 6,000-year- old dugong remnant is found on Akab Island (Umm al Qaywayn, United Arab Emirates, Jousse 1999).
The analysis of the animal revealed to us that it has long been left unchanged in evolution ; there is only one species of dugong, the D. dugon, but this has not always been the case: up to the 18th century, in fact, there was a second one, the Hydrodamalis gigas, the Steller’s ritina or sea cow, then extinct due to the excessive hunting by local populations and European colonizers at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The only surviving dugong species is therefore considered protected, despite the fact that illegal hunting or careless fishing are slowly causing its complete extinction.
In some other states, especially those belonging to South-East Asia , various legends have been created about dugongs: some cultures want him to be the bearer of bad luck, while others consider his presence to be a good omen; there were civilizations, always in those places, which believed the dugong’s tears a magical love potion , while finally others (belonging to the Philippine islands) used its bones to make amulets against doom.
It appears in a chapter of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea set in the Red Sea and also in Chapter XVI of The Mysterious Island.
The age of a dugong can be estimated based on the number of tears it has on its body
Males of this species have ivory-like incisors, and adults of both sexes often have a series of parallel scars on their backs caused by attempts at mating or fighting. Females do not reach sexual maturity until they are about 10 years old and give birth every 3 to 7 years. Usually, a single baby is born after 12 months of gestation.
The cubs suckle for at least one year, but also eat seagrass from an early age. Like manatees, they do not enter waters with temperatures below 20 °C (68 °F). Dugong is a long-lived animal, and can live up to 70 years. These main predators are whales and killer sharks, but crocodiles can also eat dugongs. Humans are also predatory species; Dugongs have been hunted for thousands of years for their meat and oil. As a herbivore, it is not a predator of other animal species.
Photo credit (main photo): Wikimedia Commons