Dugongs | wwf
Dugong (Dugong dugon). Indo-Pacific Ocean. 
	© Jürgen Freund / WWF


The dugong (Dugong dugon) is a herbivorous marine mammal, often called the “sea cow” for its habit of grazing on seagrass meadows. Its range extends from the shallow tropical and subtropical coastal and island waters of the Indo-Pacific, from East Africa to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Most of the world’s dugongs (approximately 85,000 individuals1 are now found in northern Australian waters between Shark Bay, in Western Australia, and Moreton Bay in Queensland. Australian waters are home to at least three-quarters of the global population and are a vitally important stronghold for the species.

Dugongs are listed globally as vulnerable to extinction. Populations world-wide have become increasingly fragmented and anecdotal evidence suggests that numbers are declining as a result of the loss and degradation of seagrass meadows, fishing pressures, Indigenous hunting and coastal pollution2.

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1. Marsh & Lefebvre, 1994
2. Marsh et al., 2001

Dugongs facts

  • Common name


  • Scientific name

    Dugong dugon

  • Length

    Up to 3.5 m

  • Weight

    Up to 420 Kg

  • Habitat

    A large proportion of the world's dugong population is found in northern Australian waters from Moreton Bay in the east to Shark Bay in the west.They occur in coastal waters and estuarine creeks and streams, feeding in wide, shallow protected bays, mangrove channels, and in the lee of large inshore islands where seagrass beds occur. They are also found in deeper water further offshore in areas where the continental shelf is wide, shallow and protected.

  • Status

    listed as 'Vulnerable' in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and Marine and Migratory nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).

What is the difference between a Dugong and a Manatee?

The tail is the best way to distinguish between a manatee and a dugong. The manatee’s tail is paddle-shaped, while the dugong has a fluked tail that is similar in shape to a whale’s.