closest encounter with
was while paddling near Magnetic Island outside Townsville, but they
are found in all the northern waters of Australia.
It passed through under our kayak and nearly knocked it over, they are large animals.
They are funny looking animals, you kind of expect a whale's head but
they are different.
What Are They?
Like whales and
they are mammals.
to the order Sirenia and the family Dugongidae, and they are the last
species left from both.
Their closest known relatives - the Steller's
Sea Cows - were hunted
to extinction in the 1700s.
Their closest living relatives are not the whales and dolphins but elephants! Their
dwelling relatives are manatees.
also called sea cows
they eat sea grass that grows in the bottom of the ocean, looking much
like the grass growing in the paddock.
by Blue Dolphin Marine Tours via
What Do They Look Like?
name - dugong - comes
from a few different native languages and
means the 'lady of the sea'.
It's body, indeed, is streamlined and females are believed to have
inspired the old stories of mermaids
with their big teats, slow, graceful movements, and the habit to 'walk' on their tail in the
They have a tail
similar to those of a
no dorsal fin
or hind limbs.
They have a unique rounded head and a large
snout with an elongated upper lip, adapted for uprooting
eating sea grass.
and like whales and dolphins
they don't rely on
vision as much as hearing
much more efficient sense to use under
They use sounds for communication, and the senses of smell and touch when looking
They are about three
and weigh about 500kg, but the largest
one seen was more than four metres long and weighed about a tonne.
Like whales and dolphins, dugongs need to surface to breath.
they are shy animals and don't approach humans.
by .m for
matthijs via Flickr.com
Where Are They Found
are found in the
waters of 37 different
from east Africa to Australia - in Indian and Pacific Oceans (while the
similar looking and related manatees are found on the opposite side of
the globe in western Africa, Florida, South America and the Caribbean
The largest dugong population is
along the northern half of the continent - between Moreton Bay in
Queensland and Shark Bay in Western Australia.
The southernmost individual was spotted in Sydney.
They prefer warmer waters
are more abundant in the far north - the waters around Cape York, the
Kimberleys and the Top End of Northern Territory.
They also often prefer
and tend to be found along the coasts, in the bays, near islands and in
swim into deeper waters
waters are sheltered and there is deep-water sea grass.
They are abundant in the Great Barrier Reef that is their major feeding
ground, and Torres Strait
where they move between the tip of Cape York peninsula and Papua
by brittonpaul83 via Flickr.com
What Do They Eat?
main food is sea grass,
however, they are also known to eat algae and
even invertebrates in colder waters and in the absence of sea grass.
They are known to specialise in certain meadows and species of sea grass.
When they eat they uproot whole plants, and usually eat all parts of
As they move along while feeding, they leave behind a trail on the sea
Gloystein via Flickr.com
What Eats Them?
Being large marine animals, dugongs don't have many natural predators.
Their young can be killed by sharks,
killer whales and crocodiles.
historically hunted them for their meat, oil, teeth, bones and skin. Just like
whales, they have been easy targets for hunters thanks to
their slow movements and proximity to the coast.
Significance and Threaths
Dugongs are an important part of their ecosystem, and they are now protected by law
in most of the countries where they are found. (many, including
allow traditional hunting).
However, habitat loss,
(net) accidents and some illegal hunting continue.
life span and low reproduction rates make the
populations slow to
Dugongs numbers are believed to be decreasing.
Nicola via Flickr.com
study has shown that dugong populations along the more inhabited coast
of Queensland - south of Cooktown
- may be declining.
In the waters of Cape York, north of Cooktown, their numbers appear to
be more stable.
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background chapters on the peninsula's history and wildlife; and the comprehensive detail about all the places (down to prices, opening hours and full contact detail), it has invaluable information on at least 10 four wheel drive tracks, at least 30 guaranteed FREE camping spots on the Cape (and at least 150 on your way to the Cape), at least 40 best swimming holes, all mapped; as well as practical things - from fuel, roads, wireless internet and mobile phone reception, how to deal with the national parks booking rules; and Aboriginal land entrance and camping permits and alcohol restrictions - to vehicle preparation and accessories and necessary recovery gear by my partner Mark who is the recovery guy on northern Cape York and the Old Telegraph Track). Not to mention locals' tips on how to spot that croc and palm cockatoo ;-)
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