Dugong are more closely related to elephants than to other marine mammals such as whales and dolphins!
Their closest living aquatic relative is the manatee, a freshwater mammal with similar looks and behaviour, though the dugong's tail is fluked like a whale's.
Another close relative was Steller’s sea cow, previously found in the northern Pacific. It was hunted to extinction in the 1700's by sealers for its meat. It grew almost three times as long as the dugong and fed on large algae (kelp).
The Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef have co-existed with dugongs for more than 60,000 years.
Every day trained Indigenous rangers work with local and island communities to protect dugongs, cleaning their habitats and removing debris from remote areas.
Dugongs are usually solitary or found in pairs.
What’s in a name
Scientific name is Dugong dugon.
The word dugong comes from the Tagalog language used in the Philippines and means ‘Lady of the Sea’.
To dine for
Dugongs are mainly vegetarian. They graze on seagrass which grows in sea meadows in warm, shallow water.
Dugongs can eat up to 30kg a day including the roots, leaves and flowers.
Dugongs eat day and night, finding their food with the help of coarse, sensitive bristles on their top lip.
14 different species of seagrass meadows are found on the Great Barrier Reef.
Cyclones, storms and heavy rainfall can destroy seagrass beds by covering them in mud, meaning less food available for the dugongs.
When the seagrass supply is low, dugongs supplement their vegetarian diet with invertebrate animals like worms and shellfish.
In the swim
Dugongs can hold their breath underwater for six minutes.
They swim by using their tail like a whale, while turning and balancing using their front flippers like a dolphin.
Dugongs sing to each other all the time, using chirps, whistles, barks and other sounds that echo through the water.
Not in a hurry, they swim at a gentle 10km/hr.
Dugongs don’t migrate regularly like other species, however they do like to go for long-distance swims.
By the numbers
A fully-grown adult dugong can be up to 3 metres long and weigh more than 400kg!
The dugong’s brain only weighs 300 grams of that 400kg!
Dugongs only give birth every 3-7 years, and live for up to 70 years.
Worldwide, the dugong is listed as a vulnerable species. The number of dugongs found on the Queensland coast fell from 72,000 in the 1960s to only 500 in 2011.
The Great Barrier Reef is beautiful & diverse: we must preserve it.