The dugong, or Dugong dugon, is more commonly known as a sea cow, but do not confuse them with their close relatives: manatees. Sailors also seemed to be befuddled by this creature of the ocean, as it is believed that reports of a half woman; half fish (mermaid) creature were inspired by shadows of these creatures’ slow, graceful swimming (a rather strange looking woman apparently). They are known as sea cows because they eat huge tracts of grass that leaves behind trail-like impressions on the grassy ocean floor.
Dugongs can grow up to 3 meters in length and weigh up to 400 kilos. They have tough, blubbery, greyish-brown skin that is covered with a thin covering of hair (they are mammals) (much like some men). They also have the characteristic fluked tail of marine mammals and have sealable nostrils.
They inhabit the shallow grass-beds of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Dugongs maneuver through propulsion from their tail and balance with their flippers. Being mammals, they must surface to breathe through their nostrils, which can then close up when they return underwater. Strangely enough, dugongs, unlike most marine mammals, cannot hold their breath for very long: only about eight minutes. Their poor eyesight is compensated by excellent hearing. Male dugongs have tusks, which are used during mating season to fight off other males.
Dugongs are considered vulnerable due to the fact that offshore drilling (yes drill, Drill, DRILL!) is destroying much of their shallow ocean grasslands. Pollution and being accidentally caught in fishing nets are also problems. They also have a slow reproductive rate which only exacerbates the issue.