You can find a lot of rare marine species and adventures that can leave you in awe when you encounter the marvels of nature while enjoying several water sports in Andaman. The dugong is one of the lesser-known creatures which inhabits the sea and is herbivorous. The dugong is found mostly in Little Andaman and is the state animal of the islands. It is the only species alive from the Dugongidae family. Its survival is critical and its number is declining rapidly due to several reasons. It is also called the Lady of the Sea with a lifespan of over 70 years.
These are strictly marine mammals. They are also known as sea cows because they feed completely on seagrass. They become sexually mature from 10 to 17 years. Every 5 to 7 years, a female gives birth to only one calf. Young calves depend on their mother completely for a year and a half. Hence, their population grows slowly. There are just two species of sea cow – Stellar and Manatee.
These days, dugongs are about to become extinct in Indo-Pacific regions. The current distribution is limited along the west coast, Gulf of Kutch, the Palk Bay region, Gulf of Munnar and Andaman & Nicobar. Dugongs were completely extinct about 60 years ago in Lakshadweep waters.
Key Features of Dugongs
- Herbivorous – Apart from other sirenians, Dugongs are also known as ‘sea cows’ as they mainly feed on grasses. They are the only herbivorous sea mammals with features of a cow. While eating, they ingest the whole plant along with roots. They are docile mammals living in the depths of the sea. There are hardly 50 dugongs in Andaman and their survival is a major concern for the government.
- Back Defense – Their back is the protective part of dugong where they deposit most of the blubber. They don’t indulge in fights and they also avoid attacking small fishes. They are calm animals like cows. They can easily avoid the attack as they show only their back to the predators and attackers.
- Thawte – They are also known as pani-suwar or sea pigs (Thawte) in the Andaman Islands. These mammals got this name for their bulky size and shape. They are called sea pigs for their eating behavior.
- Lekking – It is the process when males protect the area from other males to attract a female partner. There is a season when these creatures practice this thing. They become sexually active and mature from 8 to 18 years. Males are seen with their erupted tusks when they have high testosterone levels.
- Reproduction – During the lifespan of females, they give birth to few calves only. They are capable of reproducing only one calf at once. Their gestation period lasts up to 15 months. Newborns weigh up to 30 kg and they are around 4 feet long. They stay closer to their mother for up to 18 months after birth to be nursed and to learn swimming. Infants learn to feed on seagrass. Mothers are very caring to their calves and they protect against other sea creatures. Mothers teach their calves to defend with back, feed and breathe oxygen by coming out from the ocean.
Why are they extinct?
The dugongs are found only in around 37 countries. They have been hunted for oils and meat for centuries. Due to this reason, their population has declined. Its meat is vital for oil production. Hence, they are vulnerable to human activities as they depend only on seagrasses which are found only in coastal regions. They fall under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and they are near extinction. Loss of their habitat, gill netting, squalor loss, and large scale hunting and chemical pollutants are some of the reasons for their extinction.
What Indian Government doing to protect them?
Along with the Persian Gulf, most of Dugong also inhabit the Red Sea. There are only 200 dugongs found in the world. India is also trying to encourage its South Asian neighbors to sign UNEP/CMS Dugong MOU.
Dugongs in the Andaman Islands
Dugongs are mainly found in Little Andaman along Dugong Creek in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. According to a research, you can find them in several parts of Havelock Islands, Ritchie’s Archipelago of Neil Island, South Andaman (Rutland, Jolly Buoy, and Tarmugli Islands), in Hutbay, middle and North Andaman (along Reef, White Cliff, Mayabunder and Landfall islands), and along the heart of Nicobar Islands. Andaman and Nicobar region has over 50 dugongs but they are hardly surviving due to rise in poaching and declining corals.
Commercialization is another major threat to the survival of dugong which is an endangered species. In Association with Andaman and Nicobar Environment, the Forest Department and Nature Conservation Foundation are implementing a lot of efforts for the conservation of these creatures. The government is trying hard to create a natural habitat for these creatures so they can live peacefully and reproduce well. The authorities are looking forward to knowing the habitats of such types of rare and mysterious species and to build awareness among the locals like boat owners, fishermen, and others to reduce poaching. It is known to be the first step to preserve these sea mammals.
All in all, the state animal of Andaman is definitely the rare mammal found across the world due to the threat of commercialization, poaching, and other human activities. Even tourists and locals should take responsibility to generate awareness about this creature and conserve it and its natural habitat. A lot of divers visit Andaman with a hope to spot this sea mammal. Book Andaman Nicobar packages now if you also want to see this animal in its own habitat.