The name ‘dugong’ originates from ‘Lady of the Sea’ and dugongs are believed to be the inspiration for the mermaids that early sailors spoke of.
Highly endangered globally, dugongs are listed as Critically Endangered in Singapore. While they used to be common in the Johor Straits, sightings in the wild are extremely rare now – mainly in the north-eastern coast of Singapore.
Dugongs are shy and gentle creatures, and they are usually solitary. Although the animal itself is rarely encountered, dugong feeding trails are commonly seen in Singapore’s seagrass meadows – even next to industrial facilities and at public beaches.
The dugong is the only herbivorous marine mammal. Its mouth, teeth, and digestive system are specially adapted for a seagrass diet. They pull up the seagrass with their thick, flexible lips and shake the leaves to remove any sand and debris before swallowing.
Its body also makes it well adapted to its underwater lifestyle. The dugong has a rounded head and a streamlined body that is sparsely covered with hair. It has no hind limbs but has a powerful tail fluke to swim with. Dugongs also have a lot of stored fat (blubber) which provides buoyancy.
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