Dugongs are a large marine mammal known for their docile nature and large size that are often spotted in the Whitsundays. They are often spotted in particular bays, often with calves, cruising around the clear blue waters. As mammals, they need oxygen to survive, meaning they are often spotted surfacing for air.
The main habitat for dugongs is in grassy sea beds in shallow water, where they feed. Areas where Whitsunday Catamarans boats have spotted Ddgongs include Tongue Bay, Cid Harbour (Whitsunday Island), Repulse Bay, Muddy Bay and Shute Harbour (mainland), all of which are in the Whitsunday Islands.
The dugong is also known as the sea cow and is completely herbivorous. The name sea cow comes from the fact that they graze on seagrass, much like their on-land 'counterpart.'
Adult dugongs can reach lengths of more than 3 meters. They have relatively poor eyesight, so rely on the sensitive bristles covering the upper lip of their large snouts to find and grasp seagrass. This is often their demise as they have a hard time seeing boats coming or getting out of the way of sea traffic.
Dugongs date back 5,000 years ago from paintings found in caves in Malaysia. There have also been references made to sea cows in the bible, which may be dugongs. It has also been said that the myth of the mermaid was created from mariners mistaking dugongs for an aquatic females. When seen from above the top half of a nursing female dugong can appear like a human woman, with breasts that they use for nourishing their young. The dugong is currently an endangered species and population has declined somewhat over the years. However, it has recently been said that the population of calves has been on the rise, giving hope to the overall population.
Dugong feed almost exclusively on seagrass, a flowering plant found in shallow water areas. An adult will eat about 30 kilograms of seagrass each day and spends much of the day foraging. Dugongs may live for 70 years or more and are slow breeders, which again contributes to their low population numbers. The female dugong does not begin breeding until she is 10-17 years old, and only calves once every three to five years, providing seagrass and other conditions are suitable. Cows and calves communicate by producing 'chirps'. Dugongs are also under serious threat on the Great Barrier Reef. Dugong sanctuaries or dugong protection areas have been established in Edgecumbe Bay and Repulse Bay in hopes of boosting their population numbers.