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Dugongs - The original mermaid


Today we’re taking a little look at the dugong, or sea cow, as it’s sometimes known, which is related to the manatee and considered to be endangered. The dugong is an aquatic mammal, and is predominately an herbivore which occasionally eats molluscs and crustaceans. It is closely related to the elephant and looks like a large, snub nosed dolphin with a fluted, whale-like, tail and is found in warm coastal waters between East Africa and Australia, with a large population living around Shark Bay in Western Australia. They move gracefully and are thought to be at the origin of mermaid mythology, being mistaken by seafarers long ago.

The dugong grazes on underwater grasses and can remain submerged for up to six minutes. This mammal also needs to drink fresh water, which I found quite surprising. They are large animals, with the average adult being 2.7 metres long and weighing between 250 - 300 kg. Their life span is up to seventy years, however many die before then because of habitat destruction, being struck by boats, drowning in fishing nets, or being eaten by predators which include crocodiles and sharks.

This gentle animal only has one calf per pregnancy, with the gestation period being between twelve and fourteen months and the young can stay with their mother for a few years. They are adorable animals who are now thankfully protected, yet their numbers are not increasing. If you are boating in coastal waters near dugong habitats, please travel slowly to avoid killing or injuring them. Let’s do what we can to stop another of the Earth’s wonderful creatures from disappearing.

A small way you can help is by making a donation to conservation funds which are committed to saving this animal and protecting the integrity of our oceans, two of these being Sirian International and The Australian Marine Conservation Society.

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