A dugong, scientifically known as Dugong dugon, is a large marine mammal that is sometimes referred to as the “sea cow” due to its herbivorous diet and slow-moving nature. Dugongs are part of the order Sirenia, which also includes manatees. These mammals are known for their distinct appearance and behavior, and they are found in warm coastal waters, particularly in the Indian Ocean, the western Pacific Ocean, and the waters around northern Australia.
The dugong is found in the Philippines, particularly in its coastal waters and seagrass habitats. Dugongs are primarily found in several areas of the Philippines, with the largest populations residing in waters around Palawan, Visayas and in Mindanao.
Dugongs are gentle and docile creatures, and they are considered an important species for the health of seagrass ecosystems. They play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of seagrass beds, which are important marine habitats for various species of fish and invertebrates. Dugongs are closely associated with seagrass meadows, which serve as their primary source of food. Seagrass beds in coastal areas and shallow waters are critical habitats for dugongs in the Philippines.
Adult dugongs can weigh anywhere from 200 to 600 kilograms (440 to 1,320 pounds), with females typically being larger than males. Dugongs have a relatively long lifespan, with some individuals living for several decades.
Dugongs have a robust and cylindrical body that tapers at both ends. They are relatively large animals, with adult dugongs typically measuring between 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) in length, although larger individuals have been recorded. Dugongs have a broad and rounded head with a split upper lip. Their upper lip is prehensile, which means it can grasp and manipulate seagrass, their primary food source. Dugongs lack teeth in their upper jaw, but they have dense, bristle-like structures called “vibrissae” that are used for sensing and manipulating food. They have several large, grinding teeth in their lower jaw. Dugongs have large, paddle-like flippers at the front of their bodies. These flippers help them steer and maneuver in the water.
Dugongs in the Philippines, like in many other parts of their range, face conservation challenges. They are classified as critically endangered in the country and vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Threats to dugongs include habitat degradation due to coastal development, pollution, boat strikes, and entanglement in fishing gear.
Dugong watching in the Philippines
Palawan is one of the primary regions in the Philippines known for its dugong populations. Popular locations where there are known sightings and dive centers for dugong include Busuanga, Coron, El Nido, and Honday Bay. Diving and snorkeling tours in the waters of these destinations can offer a chance to see these gentle marine mammals.
When planning a dugong-watching excursion in Palawan, consider contacting local dive operators and tour providers with knowledge of the current conditions and the best locations for dugong encounters. Additionally, practicing responsible and non-disruptive wildlife viewing is crucial to the conservation of these vulnerable marine animals and their habitats.
Read more about the Marine Life in the Philippines.