Monday, 2 September 2019
SIRENIA: MANATEES AND DUGONGS
Both of these lovelies from the order Sirenia went from terrestrial to marine, taking to the water in search of more prosperous pastures, as it were.
They are the extant and extinct forms of the oddball manatees and dugongs. They inhabit rivers and shallow coastal waters, making the best use of their fusiform bodies that lack dorsal fins and hind limbs. I've been thinking about them in the context of some of the primitive armoured fish we find in the Chengjiang biota of China, specifically those primitive species that were also fusiform.
We find dugongs today in waters near northern Australia and parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They favour locations where seagrass, their food of choice, grows plentiful and they eat it roots and all. While seagrass low in fibre, high in nitrogen and easily digestible is preferred, dugongs will also dine on lower grade seagrass, algae and invertebrates should the opportunity arise. They've been known to eat jellyfish, sea squirts and shellfish over the course of their long lives. Some of the oldest dugongs have been known to live 70+ years, which is another statistic I find surprising. They are large, passive, have poor eyesight and look pretty tasty floating in the water; a defenceless floating buffet. Their population is in decline but yet they live on.