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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Meet the Dugong

Share a minute with a rare marine mammal, the dugong (Dugong dugon).


Most Americans are familiar with the endangered Caribbean manatee (Trichechus manatus), a slow moving herbivorous mammal that swims in shallow warm waters from Florida and the Caribbean to coastal South America. The dugong is related to the manatee, but it lives in the Pacific Ocean from Micronesia and the Philippines to Taiwan, South East Asia, and Indonesia to northern Australia and the Pacific islands. Unfortunately, only the Australian population is monitored and there is concern that this gentle plant-eater may be disappearing across much of its territory.

Watch the dugong swimming and you will note that it has a fluked tail like a dolphin, rather than a spoon-shaped manatee tail. The dugong swims faster than the manatee and is known to travel further when migrating. 

However, because it lives across a wider area, little is known about wild dugongs except that they eat sea grass. They are important creatures in their marine ecosystem because their grazing encourages the growth of sea grass higher in nutrients. In captivity, dugongs are picky eaters, refusing more nutrient-rich greens and preferring romaine lettuce. 

Unfortunately, romaine is low in nutrients. It takes a crew of people to keep the dugongs healthy. They refill special feeding trays all day long that hold the lettuce upright underwater like sea grass. 

Like their closest land-relative, the elephant, dugongs can live to around age 70. They also do not reach sexual maturity until after 10 years old and mothers care for their offspring for several years, spacing calves three to seven years apart. They are very slow to reproduce. 

In 2014 there are only five dugongs in captivity in the world. The two pictured here are orphaned individuals that were unable to survive in the wild.  (more about Pig and Wuru at the Sydney Aquarium in Australia).

See more Australian wildlife:
Cape Tribulation, Queensland - Watch Green Tree Ants
See Natural Art on a Tropical Australian Beach (sand dabbler crabs)
Flying Foxes in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia
Sea Birds on Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia  
Spotting a Lace Monitor in the Wild
Australian Great Barrier Reef Swim
(parrot fish, zebra fish, giant clams, coral)

Swim over to The Earth Minute each week for a new one-minute adventure.

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