Dugong

Dugong dugon                      Herbivore         Diurnal            Status: Vulnerable

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These gentle creatures can weigh more than 400 kg. Relatives of the manatee, and more closely related to elephants than to other marine mammals, the dugong is found in the shallow waters of more than 35 countries along the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, with the world’s largest population concentrated in Australia’s northern waters.

Their ribs and long bones are some of the densest known in the animal kingdom and may act as ballast to help them stay just under the water’s surface. They use their downturned snouts to harvest sea grass. Because this grass won’t grow in captivity, there are only four aquariums boasting dugongs in their collection. With a 70-year lifespan, a slow rate of reproduction and meat and oil desired by human hunters, many dugong populations hover on the brink of extinction.

Photo courtesy of Ben Zuidwijk.

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