The Dugong, also known as the Sea Cow, is a very large species of marine mammal and is one of only four surviving types of the order Sirenia. In fact, it is also the only sirenian in its native range which includes the waters of at least 37 countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
The Dugong is the only strictly-marine herbivorous mammal. All species of manatee use fresh water to some extent. The IUCN has listed the Dugong as Highly Vulnerable.
Dugong Habitat and Distribution
The Dugong principally resides in warm coastal ocean waters. They range from the western Pacific Ocean to the eastern coast of Africa and inhabit the warm waters along the coastline. Large numbers will congregate in wide and shallow protected bays, but also in mangrove channels, and the leeward sides of large islands. All those areas offer the common presence of seagrass beds.
The seagrass beds are usually at a depth of around 33 ft (10 m). Within areas where the continental shelf remains shallow, the Dugong tends to travel more than 6 mi (10 km) from shore.
Further, different habitats play a role in different activities. For example, shallow waters are favorite sites for birthing as it minimizes the risk of predation. Also, deeper waters may provide a thermal refuge from cooler waters closer to the shore during winter.
Dugong Dietary Habits
The Dugong is commonly called a sea cow because its diet consists principally of sea-grass. When feeding, they typically ingest the entire plant, including the roots. They would also consume algae when seagrass is scarce.
Though they are primarily herbivorous, the Dugong will occasionally eat small invertebrates. Indeed, most individuals prefer to feed where the seagrass is scarce, as opposed to more concentrated areas of vegetation.
The creature has very poor eyesight and uses its keen sense of smell to locate edible plants. Their highly flexible upper lip helps them dig out the plants from the sea floor.