Dugongs are large grey mammals which spend their entire lives in the sea. Fully grown, they may be three metres long and weigh as much as 400 kilograms. Interestingly, their nostrils are near the top of their heads.

When they swim, dugongs use their broad, spade-shaped tail in an up-and-down motion (as does a whale), as well as their two front flippers.

Where are they found?
In Australia, dugongs can be found in the shallow, protected coastal waters, north from the NSW-Queensland border, across the Top End, right round to Shark Bay on the Western Australian coast. They are also found in other parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where there is warm shallow water and plenty of the seagrass on which they feed. Dugongs only surface to breathe; they never come onto the land..


A female dugong has a single calf every three to seven years. It is born underwater, like a dolphin. The baby is fed milk from the mother and stays with her until one or two years old. A dugong will not be fully grown until it is somewhere between 9 and 17 years old.

Because dugongs 'graze' on seagrasses, they are sometimes referred to as 'sea cows'. These seagrasses grow on sandy bottoms in warm, shallow water. As you can imagine, a 400-kg dugong needs to eat a lot of seagrass every day!


Dugongs are slow moving and have practically no means of defending themselves against their enemies. Because of their large size, their only real enemies (apart from humans) are large sharks, 'salties' (saltwater crocodiles) and orcas ('killer whales'). When frightened or in danger, baby dugongs do the same thing as a human baby -- they hide behind their mothers!

Dugongs are classified as 'vulnerable', which means they need to be looked after. They are a protected animal, except for traditional Aboriginal people who may hunt them for food. In Australia, some dugongs have been drowned when caught in fishing nets. Their food, seagrass, can also be easily destroyed by dredging, pollution, or by sand washed into the sea from farming areas. If the seagrass is destroyed, the dugongs may starve to death