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Dugong (Dugong dugon )
Order Sirenia

Description: May reach 3m in length and weigh almost 500 kgs. They have a thick layer of fat giving them a distinctly rotund posture, small paddle-like flippers positioned far forward on the body and a broad, flattened, powerful tail that resembles the tail of whale. The ochre brown skin appears smooth, but a really close view reveals a rough surface covered in pits from which grow short, thick hairs. At the front end of the large head are two nostrils born on a muscular fleshy lip that, when tensed curls upwards to aid breathing at the surface. The mouth is surrounded by fleshy lobes and thick, bristly hairs, presumably sensory. Males, which are considerably larger than females, have ivory tusks believed to be used in fighting during male-male rivalry and for uprooting seagrasses. The eyes are positioned on either side of the head and are small and often go unnoticed. Locally, dugongs are known as 'Aroos al-Bahr' which means 'Bride of the Sea', or 'Baghr al-Bahr, the 'sea-cow'.

Habitat: Feeding grounds are in shallow water over seagrass beds. The dugong is the world's only herbivorous marine mammal, feeding almost exclusively on seagrasses, in which they leave feeding trails of bare sand and uprooted seagrass.

Range: Dugongs in the UAE mostly inhabit the shallow waters around the islands of Murawah and Bu Tina to the west of Abu Dhabi, but their range extends further west to the border of Qatar and beyond and there is still the occasional sighting to the east around Jebel Ali, Umm-Al-Quwain and Ras al Khaimah. There are no confirmed records of dugongs in the Gulf of Oman.

Comments: The Arabian Gulf hosts the world's second largest population of dugongs, thought to number at least five thousand. The rich and extensive seagrass beds in the waters of the United Arab Emirates form habitat that has been identified as the most important for dugongs in the Arabian Gulf and probably includes the majority of this population. This species, which is thought to have given rise to the myth of the mermaid, is now threatened with extinction.

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