Dugong

my sanctuary
is lush, protected
conflicted


Behold, the dugong (Dugong dugon) – whose name translates to “lady of the sea” in indigenous languages.

So dugongs are not manatees. An easy way to tell the creatures apart is by their tail – a dugong’s tail is forked whereas manatees have a paddle.

Australia is home for populations of this seagrass snarfing marine mammal. The country also produces some fascinating research on dugongs. Hormones in dugong poop can be measured to determine if a female is pregnant. Dugongs are being tracked by blimps, drones and GPS. Similar to fish otoliths, counting the layers visible on a dugong’s teeth estimates its age.

Dugongs are protected under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act. This animal is also a “cultural keystone species” for the Aboriginal people living on the islands of the Torres Strait. Dugongs are hunted for food and traditional ceremonies. For ~20 years interactions among the government, scientists and the Aboriginal Australians have attempted to ensure sustainability of both dugongs and indigenous culture.

There are concerns of over-hunting. Distinguishing dugongs from manatees is relatively simple, but estimating their global and local population sizes is a challenge. Without accurate population sizes, the issue of over-hunting remains in flux and controversial.

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