A Dugong feeding on seagrass © Fergus Kennedy

The dugong, the Amazonian manatee, West African manatee and West Indian manatee are the only surviving members of the Order Sirenia. Often referred to as sea cows, the closest relatives to the Sirenia are elephants and hyraxes. The dugong (Dugong dugon) is the only living member of the Family Dugongidae.

The dugong is the only marine herbivorous mammal, depending largely on seagrass for food. The dugong’s range extends to over 40 countries from East Africa to the Pacific. Australia is home to the largest remaining population of dugongs.

The biological characteristics of dugongs make them highly vulnerable to threats. Dugongs are classified as “vulnerable to extinction” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, indicating that there is high-risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. CMS lists the dugong in its Appendix II, which means that international cooperative activities across jurisdictional boundaries within the dugong’s migratory range are essential for the dugong’s long-term survival.

Dugongs are slow growing and can live for a long time. They can grow up to three metres in length and weigh up to 500 kilograms.

More information on dugongs can be found on our FAQ  page and in the infographics ‘What is the difference between dugongs and manatees?’ and ‘What is the difference between seagrass and seaweed?’