A female dugong swims with her calf near Calauit Island, Palawan, Philippines

Dugong Conservation

This recent article about the protection of dugongs (Dugong dugon), or sea cows, (read here) made me think of the strange taxonomical group they are placed in: Paenunguala or the subungulates. This clade also consists of elephants and hyraxes (small rodent-like animals that live in rocky, often hilly habitats), and until recently, Aardvarks. What a strange family indeed. As unlikely a group as this is, some of the anatomical similarities that bring them together (and separate them from other animals) are the absence of a clavicle (collarbone), flat, short toenails that do not extend beyond their digits, and they are non-ruminating herbivores.

Dugong skeleton showing no clavicle

Dugongs, like their…

We often see and snorkel with dugongs when we visit northern Busuanga, Palawan as part of our Philippines snorkeling tour to Palawan. The expansive seagrass beds attract dugongs that feed upon the short blades of grass and the underlying roots. Unlike manatees, dugongs spend their time in salt water and are a bit smaller and more steam-lined for faster movement, since they literally swim with the sharks. They also differ from manatees in that they are not gregarious. Males often roam alone except during mating season. Females are usually found with their offspring and occasionally with another courting male.