Video: Meet Australia’s only captive dugongs
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- Gallery: dugongs, the mermaids of Moreton Bay
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DUGONGS OCCUR wherever there are seagrass meadows, in the tropical and subtropical waters of about 40 countries across the Indo-Pacific.
Australia is the stronghold for the species: a significant chunk of the world’s population – an estimated 70,000 – cruise about in the shallows of at least 10 different locations along the 25,000km of our northern coastline, stretching from Shark Bay, Western Australia, to Moreton Bay.
Torres Strait has the biggest population: recent figures suggest there are at least 15,000 of these enigmatic marine mammals.
Limited surface time is a trademark of dugongs. As well as their tendency to stick to murky, or turbid, water, it’s one of the main reasons they’re so elusive – and why few Australians have ever seen one.
Yet they’re the most common marine mammals in northern Australia’s coastal waters – outnumbering seals, whales and even dolphins. They’re also surprisingly big, with adults reaching lengths of about 3m and weights of 400–600kg.
There are currently only six captive dugongs in the world and two of them – a male called Pig and a female called Wuru – are in Australia, at WILDLIFE Sydney. Dugongs are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity because of their specialised diet – which is substituted with lettuce instead of seagrass in captivity.
No dugong has even been born in captivity because breeding is just too difficult.