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The dugong (/du/, /dju/; Dugong dugon) is a medium-

sized marine mammal. It is one of four living species of the


order Sirenia, which also includes three species of manatees. It is the
only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae; its
closest modern relative, Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), was
hunted to extinction in the 18th century. The dugong is the only
strictly marineherbivorous mammal.
The dugong is the only sirenian in its range, which spans the waters of
some 40 countries and territories throughout the Indo-West Pacific.
The dugong is largely dependent on seagrass communities for
subsistence and is thus restricted to the coastal habitats which
support seagrass meadows, with the largest dugong concentrations
typically occurring in wide, shallow, protected areas such
as bays, mangrove channels, the waters of large inshore islands and
inter-reefal waters. The northern waters of Australia between Shark
Bay and Moreton Bay are believed to be the dugong's contemporary
stronghold.
Like all modern sirenians, the dugong has a fusiform body with
no dorsal fin or hind limbs. The forelimbs or flippers are paddle-like.
The dugong is easily distinguished from the manatees by its fluked,
dolphin-like tail, but also possesses a unique skull and teeth.
Its snout is sharply downturned, an adaptation for feeding
in benthicseagrass communities. The molar teeth are simple and peg-
like unlike the more elaborate molar dentition of manatees.
The dugong has been hunted for thousands of years for
its meat and oil. Traditional hunting still has great cultural significance
in several countries in its modern range, particularly northern Australia
and the Pacific Islands. The dugong's current distribution is
fragmented, and many populations are believed to be close to
extinction. The IUCN lists the dugong as a species vulnerable to
extinction, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species limits or bans the trade of derived products. Despite being
legally protected in many countries, the main causes of population
decline remain anthropogenic and include fishing-related fatalities,
habitat degradation and hunting. With its long lifespan of 70 years or
more, and slow rate of reproduction, the dugong is especially
vulnerable to extinction.

Etymology and taxonomy[edit]


See also: Evolution of sirenians
The word "dugong" derives from the Tagalog term dugong which was
in turn adopted from the Malay duyung, both meaning "lady of the
sea".[3] Other common local names include "sea cow", "sea pig" and
"sea camel".[4]
Dugong dugon is the only extant species of the family Dugongidae,
and one of only four extant species of the Sirenia order, the others
forming the manatee family.[5] It was first classified by Mller in 1776
as Trichechus dugon,[6] a member of the manatee genus previously
defined by Linnaeus.[7] It was later assigned as the type
species of Dugong by Lacpde[8] and further classified within its own
family by Gray[9] and subfamily by Simpson.[6]
Dugongs and other sirenians are not closely related to other marine
mammals, being more related to elephants.[10] Dugongs and elephants
share a monophyletic group with hyraxes and the aardvark, one of the
earliest offshoots of eutherians. The fossil record shows sirenians
appearing in the Eocene, where they most likely lived in the Tethys
Ocean. The two extant families of sirenians are thought to have
diverged in the mid-Eocene, after which the dugongs and their closest
relative, the Steller's sea cow, split off from a common ancestor in
the Miocene. The Steller's sea cow became extinct in the 18th
century. No fossils exist of other members of the Dugongidae.[11]
Molecular studies have been made on dugong populations
using mitochondrial DNA. The results have suggested that the
population of Southeast Asia is distinct from the others. Australia has
two distinct maternal lineages, one of which also contains the dugongs
from Africa and Arabia. Limited genetic mixing has taken place
between those in Southeast Asia and those in Australia, mostly
around Timor.[5] One of the lineages stretches all the way
from Moreton Bay to Western Australia, while the other only stretches
from Moreton Bay to the Northern Territory.[10] There is not yet
sufficient genetic data to make clear boundaries between distinct
groups.[5]

Anatomy and morphology[edit]


The dugong's body is large with a cylindrical shape that tapers at both
ends. It has thick, smooth skin that is a pale cream colour at birth, but
darkens dorsally and laterally to brownish-to-dark-grey with age. The
colour of a dugong can change due to the growth of algae on the
skin.[12] The body is sparsely covered in short hair, a common feature
among sirenians which may allow for tactile interpretation of their
environment.[13] These hairs are most developed around the mouth,
which has a large horseshoe-shaped upper lip forming a highly mobile
muzzle.[11] This muscular upper lip aids the dugong in foraging.[12]

Habitat

Distribution and habitat[edit]


Dugong on the sea floor at Marsa Alam, Egypt
Dugongs are found in warm coastal waters from the western Pacific
Ocean to the eastern coast of Africa,[14] along an estimated 140,000
kilometres (86,992 mi) of coastline[2] between 26 and 27 degrees to
the north and south of the equator.[5]Their historic range is believed to
correspond to that of seagrasses from
the Potamogetonaceae and Hydrocharitaceae families. The full size of
the former range is unknown, although it is believed that the current
populations represent the historical limits of the range,[5] which is
highly fractured.[12] Today populations of dugongs are found in the
waters of 37 countries and territories.[10] Recorded numbers of
dugongs are generally believed to be lower than actual numbers, due
to a lack of accurate surveys. Despite this, the dugong population is
thought to be shrinking,[5] with a worldwide decline of 20 per cent in the
last 90 years. They have disappeared from the waters of Hong
Kong, Mauritius, and Taiwan, as well as parts of Cambodia, Japan,
the Philippines and Vietnam. Further disappearances are likely. [10]
Dugongs are generally found in warm waters around the coast[14] with
large numbers concentrated in wide and shallow protected bays. [5] The
dugong is the only strictly-marine herbivorous mammal, as all species
of manatee utilise fresh water to some degree.[5] Nonetheless, they
can tolerate the brackish waters found in coastal wetlands,[23] and
large numbers are also found in wide and shallow
mangrove channels and around leeward sides of large inshore
islands, where seagrass beds are common.[5] They are usually located
at a depth of around 10 m (33 ft),[12] although in areas where the
continental shelf remains shallow dugongs have been known to travel
more than 10 kilometres (6 mi) from the shore, descending to as far as
37 metres (121 ft), where deepwater seagrasses such as Halophila
spinulosa are found.[5] Special habitats are used for different activities.
It has been observed that shallow waters are used as sites for calving,
minimising the risk of predation.

Importance
Dugongs have historically provided easy targets for hunters, who
killed them for their meat, oil, skin, and bones. As the anthropologist
A. Asbjrn Jn has noted, they are often considered as the inspiration
for mermaids,[14][78] and people around the world developed cultures
around dugong hunting. In some areas it remains an animal of great
significance,[11] and a growing ecotourism industry around dugongs
has had economic benefit in some countries.[12]
There is a 5,000-year-old wall painting of a dugong, apparently drawn
by neolithicpeoples, in Tambun Cave, Ipoh, Malaysia.[79] This was
discovered by Lieutenant R.L Rawlings in 1959 while on a routine
patrol. During the Renaissance and the Baroqueeras, dugongs were
often exhibited in wunderkammers. They were also presented as Fiji
mermaids in sideshows.
Dugong meat and oil have traditionally been some of the most
valuable foods of Australian aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
Some aborigines regard dugongs as part of their
Aboriginality.[10] Dugongs have also played a role in legends in Kenya,
and the animal is known there as the "Queen of the Sea". Body parts
are used as food, medicine, and decorations. In the Gulf states,
dugongs served not only as a source of food, but their tusks were
used as sword handles. Dugong oil is important as a preservative and
conditioner for wooden boats to people in around the Gulf of Kutch in
India, who also believe the meat to be an aphrodisiac. Dugong ribs
were used to make carvings in Japan. In Southern China dugongs
were traditionally regarded as a "miraculous fish", and it was bad luck
to catch them. A wave of immigration beginning at the end of the
1950s resulted in dugongs being hunted for food. In the Philippines
dugongs are thought to bring bad luck, and parts of them are used to
ward against evil spirits. In areas of Thailand it is believed that the
dugong's tears form a powerful love potion, while in parts of Indonesia
they are considered reincarnations of women. In Papua New Guinea
they are seen as a symbol of strength.[5]
Dugongs' or sea cows' hides have been thought[80] to have been used
as coverings in the building of the Old Testamentportable worship tent
known as the Tabernacle.

Dugong numbers have decreased in recent times. For a population to


remain stable, 95 per cent of adults must survive the span of one year.
The estimated percentage of females humans can kill without
depleting the population is 12%.[10] This number is reduced in areas
where calving is minimal due to food shortages. Even in the best
conditions a population is unlikely to increase more than 5% a year,
leaving dugongs vulnerable to over-exploitation. The fact that they live
in shallow waters puts them under great pressure from human activity.
Research on dugongs and the effects of human activity on them has
been limited, mostly taking place in Australia. In many countries,
dugong numbers have never been surveyed. As such, trends are
uncertain, with more data needed for comprehensive
management.[5] The only data stretching back far enough to mention
population trends comes from the urban coast of Queensland,
Australia. The last major worldwide study, made in 2002, concluded
that the dugong was declining and possibly extinct in a third of its
range, with unknown status in another half.[2]
The IUCN Red List lists the dugong as vulnerable, and the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora regulates and in some areas has banned international
trade.[11] Regional cooperation is important due to the widespread
distribution of the animal, and in 1998 there was strong support
for Southeast Asian cooperation to protect dugongs. Kenya has
passed legislation banning the hunting of dugongs and restricting
trawling, but the dugong is not yet listed under Kenya's Wildlife Act for
endangered species. Mozambique has had legislation to protect
dugongs since 1955, but this has not been effectively enforced. Many
marine parks have been established on the African coast of the Red
Sea, and the Egyptian Gulf of Aqaba is fully protected. The United
Arab Emirates has banned all hunting of dugongs within its waters, as
has Bahrain. The UAE has additionally banned drift
net fishing. India and Sri Lanka ban the hunting and selling of dugongs
and their products. Japan has listed dugongs as endangered and has
banned intentional kills and harassment. Hunting, catching, and
harassment is banned by the People's Republic of China. The first
marine mammal to be protected in the Philippines was the dugong,
although monitoring this is difficult. Palau has legislated to protect
dugongs, although this is not well enforced and poaching persists.
Indonesia lists dugongs as a protected species,[5] however protection
is not always inforced and souvenir products made from dugong parts
can be openly found in markets in Bali.[81] The dugong is a national
animal of Papua New Guinea, which bans all except traditional
hunting. Vanuatu and New Caledonia ban hunting of dugongs.
Dugongs are protected throughout Australia, although the rules vary
by state; in some areas indigenous hunting is allowed.[5]Dugongs are
listed under the Nature Conservation Act in the Australian state of
Queensland as vulnerable. Most currently live in established marine
parks, where boats must travel at a restricted speed and mesh net
fishing is restricted.[10] In Vietnam, an illegal network targeting dugongs
had been detected and was shut down in 2012.[47] Potential hunts
along Tanzaniancoasts by fishermen have raised concerns as well.[30]
Human activity[edit]
Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of
population decline remain anthropogenic and include hunting, habitat
degradation, and fishing-related fatalities.[4] Entanglement in fishing
nets has caused many deaths, although there are no precise
statistics. Most issues with industrial fishing occur in deeper waters
where dugong populations are low, with local fishing being the main
risk in shallower waters.[5] As dugongs cannot stay underwater for a
very long period, they are highly prone to deaths due to
entanglement.[16] The use of shark nets has historically caused large
numbers of deaths, and they have been eliminated in most areas and
replaced with baited hooks.[10] Hunting has historically been a problem
too, although in most areas they are no longer hunted, with the
exception of certain indigenous communities. In areas such as
northern Australia, hunting remains the greatest impact on the dugong
population.[5]
Vessel strikes have proved a problem for manatees, but the relevance
of this to dugongs is unknown.[5] Increasing boat traffic has increased
danger,[10] especially in shallow waters. Ecotourism has increased in
some countries, although effects remain undocumented. It has been
seen to cause issues in areas such as Hainan due to environmental
degradation.[5] Modern farming practise and increased land
clearing have also had an impact, and much of the coastline of
dugong habitats is undergoing industrialisation, with increasing human
populations.[10] Dugongs accumulate heavy metal ions in their tissues
throughout their lives, more so than other marine mammals. The
effects are unknown. While international cooperation to form a
conservative unit has been undertaken,[82] socio-political needs are an
impediment to dugong conservation in many developing countries.
The shallow waters are often used as a source of food and income,
problems exacerbated by aid used to improve fishing. In many
countries, legislation does not exist to protect dugongs, and if it does it
is not enforced.[5]
Oil spills are a danger to dugongs in some areas, as is land
reclamation. In Okinawa the small dugong population is threatened by
United States military activity. Plans exist to build a military base close
to the Henoko reef, and military activity also adds the threats of noise
pollution, chemical pollution, soil erosion, and exposure to
depleted uranium.[5] The military base plans have been fought in US
courts by some Okinawans, whose concerns include the impact on the
local environment and dugong habitats.[53][83] It was later revealed that
the government of Japan was hiding evidence of the negative effects
of ship lanes and human activities on dugongs observed during
surveys carried out off Henoko reef.[84] One of the three individuals has
not been observed since June 2015, corresponding to the start of the
excavation operations.[85]
Environmental degradation[edit]
If dugongs do not get enough to eat they may calve later and produce
fewer young.[10] Food shortages can be caused by many factors, such
as a loss of habitat, death and decline in quality of seagrass, and a
disturbance of feeding caused by human
activity. Sewage, detergents, heavy metal, hypersaline
water, herbicides, and other waste products all negatively affect
seagrass meadows. Human activity such as
mining, trawling, dredging, land reclamation, and boat propeller
scarring also cause an increase in sedimentation which
smothers seagrass and prevents light from reaching it. This is the
most significant negative factor affecting seagrass.[5]
Halophila ovalisone of the dugong's preferred species of
seagrassdeclines rapidly due to lack of light, dying completely after
30 days. Extreme weather such as cyclones and floods can destroy
hundreds of square kilometres of seagrass meadows, as well as
washing dugongs ashore. The recovery of seagrass meadows and the
spread of seagrass into new areas, or areas where it has been
destroyed, can take over a decade. Most measures for protection
involve restricting activities such as trawling in areas containing
seagrass meadows, with little to no action on pollutants originating
from land. In some areas water salinity is increased due
to wastewater, and it is unknown how much salinity seagrass can
withstand.[5]
Dugong habitat in the Oura Bay area of Henoko, Okinawa, Japan, is
currently under threat from land reclamation conducted by Japanese
Government in order to build a US Marine base in the area.[86] In
August 2014, preliminary drilling surveys were conducted around the
seagrass beds there.[87] The construction is expected to seriously
damage the dugong population's habitat, possibly leading to local
extinction.[88]
Capture and captivity[edit]
The Australian state of Queensland has sixteen dugong protection
parks, and some preservation zones have been established where
even Aboriginal Peoples are not allowed to hunt.[10] Capturing animals
for research has caused only one or two deaths;[5] dugongs are
expensive to keep in captivity due to the long time mothers and calves
spend together, and the inability to grow the seagrass that dugongs
eat in an aquarium.[10] Only one orphaned calf has ever been
successfully kept in captivity.[12]
Worldwide, only four dugongs are held in captivity. A female from the
Philippines lives at Toba Aquarium in Toba, Mie, Japan.[5] A male also
lived there until he died on 10 February 2011.[89] The second resides
in Sea World Indonesia,[90] after having been rescued from a
fisherman's net and treated.[91] The last twoa male and a female
are kept at Sydney Aquarium, where they have resided since they
were juveniles.[92]
Gracie, a captive dugong at Underwater World, Singapore, was
reported to have died in 2014 at the age of 19, from complications
arising from an acute digestive disorder.[93]
Dugong numbers have decreased in recent times. For a population to
remain stable, 95 per cent of adults must survive the span of one year.
The estimated percentage of females humans can kill without
depleting the population is 12%.[10] This number is reduced in areas
where calving is minimal due to food shortages. Even in the best
conditions a population is unlikely to increase more than 5% a year,
leaving dugongs vulnerable to over-exploitation. The fact that they live
in shallow waters puts them under great pressure from human activity.
Research on dugongs and the effects of human activity on them has
been limited, mostly taking place in Australia. In many countries,
dugong numbers have never been surveyed. As such, trends are
uncertain, with more data needed for comprehensive
management.[5] The only data stretching back far enough to mention
population trends comes from the urban coast of Queensland,
Australia. The last major worldwide study, made in 2002, concluded
that the dugong was declining and possibly extinct in a third of its
range, with unknown status in another half.[2]
The IUCN Red List lists the dugong as vulnerable, and the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora regulates and in some areas has banned international
trade.[11] Regional cooperation is important due to the widespread
distribution of the animal, and in 1998 there was strong support
for Southeast Asian cooperation to protect dugongs. Kenya has
passed legislation banning the hunting of dugongs and restricting
trawling, but the dugong is not yet listed under Kenya's Wildlife Act for
endangered species. Mozambique has had legislation to protect
dugongs since 1955, but this has not been effectively enforced. Many
marine parks have been established on the African coast of the Red
Sea, and the Egyptian Gulf of Aqaba is fully protected. The United
Arab Emirates has banned all hunting of dugongs within its waters, as
has Bahrain. The UAE has additionally banned drift
net fishing. India and Sri Lanka ban the hunting and selling of dugongs
and their products. Japan has listed dugongs as endangered and has
banned intentional kills and harassment. Hunting, catching, and
harassment is banned by the People's Republic of China. The first
marine mammal to be protected in the Philippines was the dugong,
although monitoring this is difficult. Palau has legislated to protect
dugongs, although this is not well enforced and poaching persists.
Indonesia lists dugongs as a protected species,[5] however protection
is not always inforced and souvenir products made from dugong parts
can be openly found in markets in Bali.[81] The dugong is a national
animal of Papua New Guinea, which bans all except traditional
hunting. Vanuatu and New Caledonia ban hunting of dugongs.
Dugongs are protected throughout Australia, although the rules vary
by state; in some areas indigenous hunting is allowed.[5]Dugongs are
listed under the Nature Conservation Act in the Australian state of
Queensland as vulnerable. Most currently live in established marine
parks, where boats must travel at a restricted speed and mesh net
fishing is restricted.[10] In Vietnam, an illegal network targeting dugongs
had been detected and was shut down in 2012.[47] Potential hunts
along Tanzaniancoasts by fishermen have raised concerns as well.[30]
Human activity[edit]
Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of
population decline remain anthropogenic and include hunting, habitat
degradation, and fishing-related fatalities.[4] Entanglement in fishing
nets has caused many deaths, although there are no precise
statistics. Most issues with industrial fishing occur in deeper waters
where dugong populations are low, with local fishing being the main
risk in shallower waters.[5] As dugongs cannot stay underwater for a
very long period, they are highly prone to deaths due to
entanglement.[16] The use of shark nets has historically caused large
numbers of deaths, and they have been eliminated in most areas and
replaced with baited hooks.[10] Hunting has historically been a problem
too, although in most areas they are no longer hunted, with the
exception of certain indigenous communities. In areas such as
northern Australia, hunting remains the greatest impact on the dugong
population.[5]
Vessel strikes have proved a problem for manatees, but the relevance
of this to dugongs is unknown.[5] Increasing boat traffic has increased
danger,[10] especially in shallow waters. Ecotourism has increased in
some countries, although effects remain undocumented. It has been
seen to cause issues in areas such as Hainan due to environmental
degradation.[5] Modern farming practise and increased land
clearing have also had an impact, and much of the coastline of
dugong habitats is undergoing industrialisation, with increasing human
populations.[10] Dugongs accumulate heavy metal ions in their tissues
throughout their lives, more so than other marine mammals. The
effects are unknown. While international cooperation to form a
conservative unit has been undertaken,[82] socio-political needs are an
impediment to dugong conservation in many developing countries.
The shallow waters are often used as a source of food and income,
problems exacerbated by aid used to improve fishing. In many
countries, legislation does not exist to protect dugongs, and if it does it
is not enforced.[5]
Oil spills are a danger to dugongs in some areas, as is land
reclamation. In Okinawa the small dugong population is threatened by
United States military activity. Plans exist to build a military base close
to the Henoko reef, and military activity also adds the threats of noise
pollution, chemical pollution, soil erosion, and exposure to
depleted uranium.[5] The military base plans have been fought in US
courts by some Okinawans, whose concerns include the impact on the
local environment and dugong habitats.[53][83] It was later revealed that
the government of Japan was hiding evidence of the negative effects
of ship lanes and human activities on dugongs observed during
surveys carried out off Henoko reef.[84] One of the three individuals has
not been observed since June 2015, corresponding to the start of the
excavation operations.[85]
Environmental degradation[edit]
If dugongs do not get enough to eat they may calve later and produce
fewer young.[10] Food shortages can be caused by many factors, such
as a loss of habitat, death and decline in quality of seagrass, and a
disturbance of feeding caused by human
activity. Sewage, detergents, heavy metal, hypersaline
water, herbicides, and other waste products all negatively affect
seagrass meadows. Human activity such as
mining, trawling, dredging, land reclamation, and boat propeller
scarring also cause an increase in sedimentation which
smothers seagrass and prevents light from reaching it. This is the
most significant negative factor affecting seagrass.[5]
Halophila ovalisone of the dugong's preferred species of
seagrassdeclines rapidly due to lack of light, dying completely after
30 days. Extreme weather such as cyclones and floods can destroy
hundreds of square kilometres of seagrass meadows, as well as
washing dugongs ashore. The recovery of seagrass meadows and the
spread of seagrass into new areas, or areas where it has been
destroyed, can take over a decade. Most measures for protection
involve restricting activities such as trawling in areas containing
seagrass meadows, with little to no action on pollutants originating
from land. In some areas water salinity is increased due
to wastewater, and it is unknown how much salinity seagrass can
withstand.[5]
Dugong habitat in the Oura Bay area of Henoko, Okinawa, Japan, is
currently under threat from land reclamation conducted by Japanese
Government in order to build a US Marine base in the area.[86] In
August 2014, preliminary drilling surveys were conducted around the
seagrass beds there.[87] The construction is expected to seriously
damage the dugong population's habitat, possibly leading to local
extinction.[88]
Capture and captivity[edit]
The Australian state of Queensland has sixteen dugong protection
parks, and some preservation zones have been established where
even Aboriginal Peoples are not allowed to hunt.[10] Capturing animals
for research has caused only one or two deaths;[5] dugongs are
expensive to keep in captivity due to the long time mothers and calves
spend together, and the inability to grow the seagrass that dugongs
eat in an aquarium.[10] Only one orphaned calf has ever been
successfully kept in captivity.[12]
Worldwide, only four dugongs are held in captivity. A female from the
Philippines lives at Toba Aquarium in Toba, Mie, Japan.[5] A male also
lived there until he died on 10 February 2011.[89] The second resides
in Sea World Indonesia,[90] after having been rescued from a
fisherman's net and treated.[91] The last twoa male and a female
are kept at Sydney Aquarium, where they have resided since they
were juveniles.[92]
Gracie, a captive dugong at Underwater World, Singapore, was
reported to have died in 2014 at the age of 19, from complications
arising from an acute digestive disorder.[93]
There is evidence that male dugongs lose fertility at older
ages. Despite the longevity of the dugong, which may live
for 50 years or more, females give birth only a few times
during their life, and invest considerable parental care in their
young.

How does the dugong breath


These mammals can stay underwater for six minutes before
surfacing. They sometimes breathe by standing on their tail
with their heads above water.Dugongs spend much of their
time alone or in pairs, though they are sometimes seen
gathered in large herds of a hundred animals.

Why is the dugong an endangered species?


Dugongs are threatened by sea grass habitat loss or
degradation because of coastal development or industrial
activities that cause water pollution. ... This makes the
conservation of their shallow water marine habitat very
important. They also often become victims of bycatch, the
accidental entanglement in fishing nets.

Dugongs graze on sea grasses and aquatic plants that grow


in abundance in the tropical shallows. Dugongs eat large
amounts of sea plants and often leave feeding trails behind of
bare sand and uprooted sea grass

COMMON NAME: Dugong


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Dugong dugon
TYPE: Mammals
DIET: Herbivores
GROUP NAME: Herd
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 70 years
SIZE: 8 to 10 ft
WEIGHT: 510 to 1,100 lbs
SIZE RELATIVE TO A 6-FT MAN:

Endearing but
endangered: dugongs in
the Philippines
Dugongs once grazed in their thousands on the seabed
off the Philippines. Today, they can only survive in
specially designated areas, where they are guaranteed
food and protection from propellers and fishing nets.

Project aim: the creation of protected areas, both off the Island
of Busuanga (by the NGO C3), and off Palawan (by the
NGO Rare)
Project size: with its staff of five, C3, monitors the condition of
seagrass meadows and the occurrence of sea cows. The team,
which is supported by 40 volunteers, also leads public awareness
campaigns. Rare also relies on volunteers to ensure fishing bans
are enforced and close-mesh nets are not used.
Project volume: C3 receives an annual total of 25,000 euros
($26,7041) from foundations in Hong Kong, Japan and Belgium,
and the Philippine authorities for nature conservation. The
maritime protection zone off Caramay/Palawan (Rare) was set up
using money from the US, Germany and the UN.
See cows, or dugongs, eat up to 25 kilos of seagrass every day.
When they have had their fill, they like to bob up and down in the
surface waters. But that is not without danger, because it puts
them at risk from propellers, which sometimes cut their backs, or
fishing nets, in which they become entangled and unable to come
up for air. Baby dugongs are at particular risk. Sea cows the world
over are endangered, but have almost entirely vanished from
waters off the Philippines. The good news is that politicians are
now alive to the problem, and local populations, who perceive the
animals to be part of their culture, back the idea of greater
protection. NGOs such as C3 or Rare are met with understanding
when they set out to create protected areas. The introduction of a
large no fishing zone above the seagrass meadows, as well as
prescribed routes for boats could help prevent the extinction of
these gentle marine creatures.

Philippines Dugongs In Danger


author: Leo Cayaban
tags: dugongs, philippines

The dugong is one of the Philippines most threatened marine


mammals and Palawan province is one of the species final
strongholds. Historically, dugongs were hunted using nets, prong,
hook, harpoon, and dynamite and their tasty meat openly sold.
Nowadays, accidental capture in fishing nets and fishing corrals is
likely the most significant threat since they simply are not common
enough to bother hunting directly.

The dugong is reliant on shallow coastal seagrass and as result


shares almost all its habitat with humans, thus it is essential that any
conservation action includes local people. We are working closely
with the communities of Palawan to ensure a prosperous future, not
just for the dugong, but also for the provinces inhabitants and their
daily livelihoods.

Description
The dugong has a pale cream color at birth, which darkens to deep gray as it
matures. It has a torpedo-shaped body with paddle-shaped forelimbs and a
fluke-like tail for propulsion. The shape of its tail is one of the characteristics
that helps to distinguish the dugong from other members of the Order Sirenia,
as manatees (Family Trichechidae) have rounded tails. The dugong has thick
skin sparsely covered by short coarse hairs. It has a rounded snout with a
large muscular upper lip that hangs over a small mouth that opens downwards
and is framed by stiff bristles on either side. It also has very heavy bones that
help it to stay underwater to feed.
Adult dugongs are usually 2.4 to 2.7 meters long and weigh 230 to 360
kilograms. There is little or no difference between the appearance of males
and females, although females may grow to be slightly larger than males and
mature males may grow tusks which are used in social interactions.<ref
name="test3">EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered)
website. Entry on dugong (accessed November 08, 2007).</ref>
The dugong has a low metabolism and tends to move relatively slowly, with
an average swimming speed of 10 kilometers per hour, although it can double
this speed if necessary. Unlike other marine mammals, it cannot hold its
breath underwater for long periods of time, so dives last only from 1 to 3
minutes. <ref name="test3">EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally
Endangered) website. Entry on dugong (accessed November 08, 2007).</ref>

Habitat and Distribution


The dugong lives in shallow coastal waters of tropical seas, where sea
grasses are abundant. It is seldom, if ever, found in freshwater. Dugongs are
usually found in the coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region, from the east
coast of Africa to Vanuatu in the western Pacific, between latitudes of about
27 north and south of the Equator. <ref name="test3">EDGE (Evolutionarily
Distinct and Globally Endangered) website. Entry on dugong (accessed
November 08, 2007).</ref>
A report on dugongs made at the Third IUCN Conservation Congress held at
Bangkok, Thailand in 2004 states that the dugong may have been present
around almost all of the islands of the Philippines in the early 1900s. At
present, occurrences of dugongs have been reported
in Isabelaand Quezon provinces, southern Mindoro and Palawan, Guimaras
Strait and Panay Gulf, northeastern Mindanao, and
southern Mindanaoincluding the Sulu Archipelago <ref name="test4">IUCN
website. Report on dugong conservation (accessed November 08,
2007).</ref>and Sarangani Bay.<ref name="test5">United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) website. Assessment report 56 on the Sulu-
Celebes region (accessed November 08, 2007).</ref>

Reproduction
A dugong sexually matures at age 9 to 10 years or as late as 15 years. There
are no specific breeding months; a female may come into heat anytime during
the year. According to the University of Michigan website, while the length of
time of a dugongs pregnancy is unknown, though it is presumed to be about
one year<ref name="test2">Fox, D. 1999. "Dugong dugon" (On-line), Animal
Diversity Web . University of Michigan Museum of Zoology website (accessed
November 08, 2007).</ref>; while the EDGE website says it is 13 to 14
months. The female usually gives birth to a single calf; twin births are rare.
Newborn dugong calves are 100 to 120 centimeters long and weigh 20 to 35
kilograms. Calves are born in shallow water and surface almost immediately
to take their first breath. They drink milk from their mothers for as long as a
year and a half, although they may begin browsing on sea grass at 3 months
after birth. Females mate and give birth only every 3 to 7 years. Dugongs are
known to live at least 70 years in the wild.<ref name="test3">EDGE
(Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) website. Entry on dugong
(accessed November 08, 2007).</ref>

Why do we need dugong

Dugongs are threatened by sea grass habitat loss or


degradation because of coastal development or industrial
activities that cause water pollution. If there is not enough sea
grass to eat then the dugong does not breed normally. This
makes the conservation of their shallow water marine habitat
very important.
Community-driven
monitoring and
conservation of Palawans
threatened dugongs
Posted on May 8, 2012

Background and Aims:

The aim of the proposed project is to sustainably conserve the


remaining endangered dugong (sea cow) population of Busuanga Island,
in the Province of Palawan, Philippines. The project will gather solid
scientific information with the cooperation of local communities in order
to create conservation strategies that fully involve local communities and
incentivize them to protect their dugongs and associated natural
resources.

The dugong (sea cow) is one of the Philippines most threatened marine
mammals. Although historically, dugongs have been sighted on almost
all of the islands of the Republic, the remaining dugong populations are
sparse and scattered. Palawan is regarded as the dugongs final
stronghold in the Philippines and is the most promising hope for the
species national survival.

Dugongs were previously hunted using nets, prong, hook, spear,


harpoon, and dynamite and the meat sold openly in public
markets. Nowadays,incidental capture in fishing nets is likely the most
significant threat to the species. Gill nets, seines, trawls, and bag nets
have been identified to have caught dugongs. Additionally fish corrals,
locally known as baklad have been known to capture dugongs. There are
no quantitative data on mortality estimates due to lack of monitoring
capabilities. The species is put under further pressure because
of degradation of its seagrass habitat due to increased coastal
development and population growth.

A significant step forward in Filipino dugong conservation occurred in


1991 with the issuance of DENR Administrative Order No. 55, which
made the dugong the first marine mammal protected in Philippine
waters. As stipulated in this AO, any person who shall hunt, kill, wound,
take away, possess, transport and/or disposes of a dugong, dead or alive,
its meat or any of its by-products shall be punished by imprisonment
from 6 months to 4 years or fined Php 500 to 5,000 or both. This order
was the result of several years of internationally supported effort to
initiate dugong conservation activities in the Philippines, involving
aerial surveys, interviews, habitat mapping and awareness-raising
activities.

However, there is a clear need to re-ignite dugong conservation in the


Philippines to sustain the momentum initialized by these projects which
occurred more than 10 years ago. The main obstacles currently facing
dugong conservation in the Philippines include: lack of funding,
insufficient scientific information on population size and threats and
ineffective implementation of national laws.

The dugong is reliant on shallow coastal seagrass and thus shares almost
all of its habitat and natural resources with humans. Therefore, in order
to successfully protect dugongs in the Philippines, it is essential that
the human component is well-considered. The support and involvement
of local communities is key to ensuring the continuation of the dugong
in the Philippines.

Project activities:

-Population assessment: we will use key-informant interviews and in-


water surveys to evaluate the status of Palawans dugongs. This
information will provide current data on the size and viability of the
remaining population.

-Habitat mapping: we will map seagrass meadows identified as


important habitat for dugongs. This work will provide information on
feeding ecology and degree of habitat degradation.

-Awareness-raising and community reporting: we will use novel


community-based social marketing methods to promote dugong
conservation throughout Palawan. We will also develop and improve
existing fisher reporting project to ensure that dugong deaths are
reported and necropsied if possible.

-Incentivizing communities- we will incentivize environmental


stewardship of coastal habitats and species using the dugong as a
flagship species by facilitating livelihood improvement opportunities in
the form of small community grants for sustainable projects proposed by
community members based on their socioeconomic needs.
-Training of UP students we will train at least 10 students from the
University of the Philippines in dugong and seagrass survey techniques.

Project objectives:

1. To assess and monitor the status of the dugong population of Palawan


and its associated habitat degradation

2. To raise awareness and develop a fisher reporting programme

3. To develop community incentive programmes, stewardship plans and


sustainable livelihoods

4. To train University of Philippines students

5. To create a policy brief to contribute to National dugong protection


legislation

Conservation importance of this work:

Currently dugongs are classified as vulnerable to extinction under the


2009 World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened
Species, which indicates that they face a high-risk of extinction in the
wild in the medium-term future. Furthermore, the Convention on the
Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) lists the
dugong in its Appendix II, meaning that the conservation of the species
would benefit from international cooperative activities organized across
the dugongs migratory range. Dugongs are also listed under Appendix I
of the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a species threatened with extinction.

The Seagrass ecosystems on which these species depend are important


not only for the survival of the dugong but also for a plethora of other
marine biodiversity. Seagrass ecosystems provide important habitat and
breeding grounds for many marine species, including important fishery
species that millions around the globe depend on daily for their
livelihoods. The economic benefits to coastal communities of seagrass
protection cannot be overstated: i.e. shrimp and fish use these
ecosystems as development grounds. Local artisanal fisheries depend on
these habitats to supply for to a growing community of hundreds of
millions.
Dugongs are effective flagship species which can support biodiversity
conservation and ecosystem based management of coastal
seagrasshabitats, while promoting protection for the sources of
livelihoods upon which millions of families depend. The dugongs
vulnerability to adverse anthropogenic influences puts them in the front
lines of many insidious and compounding threats across their extensive
geographical range. Due to the dugongs precipitous decline and
the scientific consensus that the species will disappear from the majority
of its range without significant conservation interventions, its long-term
survival of the dugong will be contingent on effective conservation and
collaborative management throughout its extensive range. Using
dugongs as a flagship species, the project would not only provide
significant improvement in its survival rates but also the protection of
seagrass and associated mangrove and reef ecosystems, wider
improvements in coastal biodiversity and environmental services
including preservation of fish nurseries, increasing coastal carbon
sequestration, and buffers from climate change impacts.
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Geographic Range
Dugongs (Dugong dugon), also known as sea cows, have a broad but fragmented range,
encompassing tropical waters from East Africa to Vanuatu, about 26 degrees both north and
south of the equator. This range spans at least 48 countries and about 140,000 km of tropical
coastline. The largest population of sea cows is found in the northern waters of Australia
between Shark Bay (Western Australia) and Moreton Bay (Queensland). The second largest
population is found in the Arabian Gulf. Dugongs are not considered migratory but are known to
travel great distances within their range in order to find food. ("Australian Government Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority", 2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; "ARKive. Images
of Life on Earth.", 2003; "Australian Government Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority",
2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; "ARKive. Images of Life on
Earth.", 2003)

Biogeographic Regions
oriental

native

ethiopian

native

australian

native
indian ocean

native

Habitat
Unlike their mostly freshwater cousins, manatees, dugongs are primarily marine mammals.
Dugongs generally inhabit shallow waters, remaining at depths of around 10 m, although they
occasionally dive to depths of 39 m to feed. These shallow areas are typically located in
protected bays, wide mangrove channels and in sheltered areas of inshore islands. Seagrass beds
consisting of phanerogamous seagrasses, their primary source of nourishment, coincide with
these optimal habitats. Dugongs, however, are also observed in deeper water where the
continental shelf is broad, neritic and sheltered. Dugongs use different habitats for different
activities. For example, tidal sandbanks and estuaries that are quite shallow, are potential areas
suitable for calving. Another example of specialized habitats are lekking areas, which are only
used during mating season. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Whiting, 2008)

In a study off the coast of Australia, near Darwin, a pair of dugongs was captured in and tracked
frequenting rocky reef habitats. Aerial surveys also showed that most dugongs in that region
were found associated with a rocky reef. Because habitats of this kind have relatively low spatial
coverage, dugongs actively select them. However, it is not known why dugongs frequently seem
to forage in these areas, as there is no seagrasses on these reefs and they are not known algae
consumers. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Whiting, 2008)

Habitat Regions
tropical
saltwater or marine
Aquatic Biomes
coastal
Other Habitat Features
estuarine
Range depth
0 to 39 m
0.00 to 127.95 ft

Average depth
10 m
32.81 ft

Physical Description
Dugongs are large, solid mammals with short, paddle-like front flippers and a tail with a straight
or concave perimeter that is used as a propeller. Their tail differentiates them from manatees, the
tail of which is paddle-shaped. Dugong fins resemble those of dolphins, but unlike dolphins,
dugongs lack a dorsal fin. Females have mammary glands under the fins from which their calves
suckle. Adult dugongs weigh from 230 to 400 kg and can range from 2.4 to 4 m in length. Their
thick skin is brownish-grey, and its color can vary when algae grows on it. Tusks are present in
all dugongs, but they are usually only visible through the skin in mature males, whose tusks are
prominent, and in old females. Their tusks are projections of the incisor teeth. There are no other
external physical differences between sexes, as they are monomorphic. Their ears have no flaps
or lobes but are nonetheless very sensitive. Dugongs are suspected to have high auditory accuity
to compensate for poor eye sight. Their snout is rather large, rounded over and ends in a cleft.
This cleft is a muscular lip that hangs over the down-turned mouth and aids the dugong in its
foraging of sea grass. Dugongs have a down-tipped jaw which accommodates the enlarged
incisors. Sensory bristles that cover their upper lip assist in locating food. Bristles also cover the
dugongs body. Paired nostrils, used in ventilation when the dugong surfaces every few minutes,
are located on top of the head. Valves keep them shut during dives. (Anderson, 1984; Lawler, et
al., 2002; Odell, 2003; Spain, et al., 1977; "ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003)

The only other species known in the family Dugongidae is Hydrodamalis gigas (Stellers sea
cow), hunted to extinction in 1767, just 36 years after their discovery. They were similar in
appearance and color to dugongs but were substantially larger, with a body length of 7 to 10 m
and weight between 4,500 and 5,900 kg. (Anderson, 1984; Lawler, et al., 2002; Odell,
2003; Spain, et al., 1977; "ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003)

Mating System polyandrous

Female dugongs reach sexual maturity at 6 years of age and may have their first calf between the ages
of 6 and 17. Males reach sexual maturity between 6 and 12 years of age. Because breeding occurs year-
round, males are always waiting for a female in oestrous. The reproductive rate of dugongs is very low,
and they only produce one calf every 2.5 to 7 years depending on location. This may be due to the long
gestation period, which is between 13 and 14 months. At birth, calves are about 30 kg in weight, 1.2 m
in length, and very vulnerable to predators. Calves nurse for 18 months or longer, during which time
they do not stray far from their mother, often riding on their mother's back. Despite the fact that
dugong calves can eat seagrasses almost immediately after birth, the suckling period allows them to
grow at a much faster rate. Calves mature between 6 and 9 years of age for both genders.n. Once
mature, they leave their mothers and seek out potential mates. ("Australian Government Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Authority", 2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; "ARKive. Images of Life on
Earth.", 2003)

Key Reproductive Features year-round breeding gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)


sexual fertilization viviparous

Breeding interval

Females dugongs breed every 2.5 to 7 years.

Breeding season

Dugongs mate year round.

Average number of offspring

Average number of offspring

AnAge

Range gestation period

13 to 15 months

Range weaning age

14 to 18 months

Average time to independence


7 years

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

6 to 17 years

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

6 to 12 years

Females dugongs invest considerable time and energy in raising calves and are the primary caregivers of
their young. Mothers and calfs form a bond which is strengthened throughout the long suckling period
of the calf, which is up to 18 months, as well as physical touches that occur during swimming and
nursing. Each female spends about 6 years with their calf. During the first 1.5 years, mothers nurse their
calf and demonstrate how to feed on seagrasses. The next 4.5 years, or until the calf reaches maturity,
are spent feeding together and bonding. In their early years, calves do not travel far from their mother
as they are easy prey for sharks, killer whales and crocodiles. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002;
"ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003; Wursig, et al., 2002)

Parental Investment precocial female parental care pre-weaning/fledging provisioning female


protecting female pre-independence provisioning female protecting female extended period of
juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

Dugongs have lifespans of 70 years or more in the wild, which is estimated by counting the growth
layers that make up a dugongs tusks. However, they are prone to a extensive array of parasites and
diseases, some of which are infectious. Dugongs are difficult to keep in captivity due to their specialized
diet, which is expensive to provide as the specific type of seagrasses cannot be grown in captivity. Calves
are rarely seen in captivity because they suckle for about 18 months after birth. Only one orphaned calf
has ever been successfully introduced into captivity in Australia. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al.,
2002)

Average lifespan

Status: wild

70 years

Average lifespan

Status: wild

70.0 years

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Average lifespan

Status: captivity

10.0 years

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Average lifespan

Status: wild

55.0 years
Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Average lifespan

Status: wild

55.0 years

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Behavior

Dugongs are a very social species and are found in groups varying from 2 to 200 individuals. Smaller
groups usually consist of a mother and calf pair. Although herds of two hundred dugongs have been
seen, they are uncommon as seagrass beds cannot support large groups of dugongs for extended
periods of time. Dugongs are a semi-nomadic species. They may migrate long distances in order to find a
specific seagrass bed, but they may also inhabit a single range for most of their life. Traveling is driven by
the quantity and quality of their primary food source, seagrass. If a certain seagrass bed is depleted,
they move on to the next one.

Because dugongs are usually found in turbid water, they are difficult to observe without disturbing
them. When disturbed, they rapidly and furtively move away from the source. They are quite shy, and
when approached cautiously, they investigate diver or boat at a long range but hesitate to come any
closer. Because of this and their difficulty to maintain in captivity, little is known regarding the behavior
of dugongs. (Anderson, 1984; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Spain, et al., 1977; Wursig, et al.,
2002)

Key Behaviors natatorial motile social

Home Range

Little information is available regarding the home grange of dugongs.

Communication and Perception

Dugongs are very social creatures, occurring in mother and calf pairs to herds of 200 individuals.
Communication is therefore vital among individuals in this species. The two primary methods of
communication this species uses are sound and vision. Much like dolphins, dugongs use chirps, whistles,
barks and other sounds that echo underwater in order to communicate. Each sound has its own
amplitude and frequency that characterizes the signal, which implies a possible purpose. For example,
chirp-squeaks have frequencies between 3 and 18 kHz and last for about 60 ms. These "chirp-squeaks"
were observed in dugongs foraging on the sea floor for vegetation and when patrolling territories. Barks
are used in aggressive behavior and trills in movements that seem to be displays. In order to hear the
ranges of sound, dugongs have developed exceptional hearing, which they use more than their sight.
(Anderson and Barclay, 1995; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Wursig, et al., 2002)

Visual communication is a useful source of communication when dugongs are in close contact. During
breeding season, males perform lekking behavior, a physical display in a specific location to draw in
females with which to mate. The vision of dugongs, however, is quite poor and they rely on other senses
to create a mental map of their surroundings. Dugongs also utilize their sense of smell. They have an
elementary olfactory system that allows them to sense chemicals in their environment to a certain
degree. This can be used to detect other dugongs, or most likely, for foraging. They can smell aquatic
plants and can therefore determine where the next feeding ground should be or where to proceed on
their feeding furrow. (Anderson and Barclay, 1995; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Wursig, et
al., 2002)

Touch is another sense that dugongs use in order to communicate. They have sensatory bristles all over
their body, including many on their lip, which help detect vibrations from their surrounds. This allows
dugongs to forage more efficiently as they can sense the seagrass against their bristles. This is
particularly useful as it complements their poor eyesight. Mothers and calves also engage in physical
communication, such as nose touching or nuzzling that strengthens their relationship. Mothers are
almost always in physical contact with their calf, the calf either swimming beneath the mother by the fin
or riding on top of her. Calve may even on occasion reach out a fin to touch their mother to gain
reassurance. (Anderson and Barclay, 1995; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Wursig, et al., 2002)

Communication Channels visual tactile acoustic

Other Communication Modes vibrations

Perception Channels visual tactile acoustic ultrasound vibrations chemical

Food Habits

Dugongs are primary consumers and the only completely herbivorous marine mammals. They consume
seagrass, particularly of the families Potamogetonaceae and Hydrocharitaceae in the genera Halophila
and Halodule. They prefer seagrasses that are low in fiber, high in available nitrogen, and are easily
digestible for better nutrient absorption. Their long intestine aids the digestion of seagrass. They also
have a low metabolism. When seagrass is scarce, dugongs also eat marine algae. They are speculated to
supplement their diet with invertebrates such as polychaete worms, shellfish and sea squirts which live
in seagrasses. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Spain, et al., 1977; "ARKive. Images of Life on
Earth.", 2003)

Dugongs use their flexible upper lip to rip up entire seagrass plants. If the entire plant cannot be
uprooted, they rip off leaves. Their grazing leaves distinctive furrows in the seagrass beds that can be
detected from the surface. To be supported properly by their environment for a year, dugongs require a
territory with approximately 0.4 ha of seagrass. This area varies with individual and the extent of their
movement, the amount of seagrass detected on the sea floor compared to what it actually ingested, the
yearly productivities of seagrass, and the rates of re-growth of seagrass. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et
al., 2002; Spain, et al., 1977; "ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003)

Primary Diet herbivore folivore eats sap or other plant foods

Animal Foods aquatic or marine worms other marine invertebrates

Plant Foods algae macroalgae

Predation

Dugongs have very few natural predators. Their massive size, tough skin, dense bone structure, and
rapidly clotting blood may aid defenses. Sharks, crocodiles, and killer whales, however, feed on juvenile
dugongs. Additionally, dugongs are often killed by humans. The are hunted by some ethnic tribes in
Australia and Malaysia, caught in gill and mesh nets set by fishers, struck by boats and ships, and are
losing habitat and resources due to anthropogenic activities. ("Australian Government Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Authority", 2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; "ARKive.
Images of Life on Earth.", 2003; "Australian Government Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority",
2002; Anderson, 1984; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; "ARKive. Images of Life on
Earth.", 2003)

Known Predators

Sharks Selachimorpha

crocodiles Crocodyloidea

killer whales Orcinus orca

humans Homo sapiens

Ecosystem Roles

Intensive grazing of dugongs on seagrass has numerous effects on the ecosystem, both directly on the
seagrass and indirectly on other organisms that live in or feed on seagrass. Their grazing contributes to
nutrient cycling and energy flow as they stir up sediment. Their fecal matter also acts as a fertilizer,
which helps seagrass to more quickly reestablish. However, in the short term, intense grazing reduces
habitats and nurseries for important commercial fish species and other invertebrates which live in
seagrass. (Anderson, 1984; Spain, et al., 1977)

Ecosystem Impact biodegradation

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dugongs are economically valuable while alive as a form of ecotourism. Activities such as dugong-
watching cruises in Australia and swimming with dugongs in the Philippines and Vanuatu help local
economies. Dugongs are also hunted for a variety of reasons. In Malaysia, dugongs are eaten
opportunistically when incidentally caught in fishing nets or traps and when incidentally or purposely
caught when fish bombing, a method of fishing which involves throwing a bomb into the water. Dugongs
killed in these circumstances are usually consumed locally or sold to neighboring islands for a good
price, as the meat is considered a delicacy. One dugong apparently sold for $105 USD, which could
stimulate local economy. In Australia, some native people regard hunting the dugong an integral part of
their traditions. Humans eat their meat and use their oil. Dugong tusks are also used as a treatment for a
variety of ailments including asthma, back pain, and shock. Tusks are also made into amulets and, in
powdered form, mixed to make a drink. Smoking pipes can be carved from the tusks and the emitted
smoke is said to have medicinal properties. Dugongs provide a thriving trade between villages and
islands, although trafficking dugong parts is illegal. (Cabanban, et al., 2006; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh,
et al., 2002)

Positive Impacts food body parts are source of valuable material ecotourism source of medicine or drug

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of dugongs on humans.

Conservation Status

Dugongs are listed as a vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, endangered on the US Federal list, and is on
Appendix I on CITES. This threatened status is primarily due to human hunting and activities. Dugongs
are inadvertently trapped in fish and shark nets and die due to lack of oxygen. They also get struck by
boats and ships. Additionally, pollution into the oceans from surrounding land kills seagrass beds and
may also negatively influence dugongs directly. Dugongs are also hunted for their meat, oil and other
valuable commodities as previously mentioned. (Whiting, 2008; "Australian Government Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Authority", 2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; Whiting, 2008;
"ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003)

Populations of dugongs are unable to rebound in part because of their very low reproduction rate. If all
female dugongs in the population bred at their full potential, the maximum rate the population could
increase is 5%. This rate is low even despite their long lifespan and low natural mortality rate from lack
of predators. (Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; Whiting, 2008; "ARKive. Images of
Life on Earth.", 2003)

Some protected sites for dugongs have been established, particularly off the coast of Australia. These
areas contain seagrass beds and optimal environments for dugongs, such as shallow water and areas in
which to calve. Reports have been made assessing what each country in the dugong range should carry
out to preserve and rehabilitate these gentle creatures. ("Australian Government Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park Authority", 2002; Lawler, et al., 2002; Marsh, et al., 2002; Marsh, 2009; Whiting, 2008;
"ARKive. Images of Life on Earth.", 2003)