Dugong Life Cycle & Mating

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you will learn about the life cycle and mating practices of the dugong, which is one of the four living members of the ''Sirenia'' order, along with manatees.

Cousin of the Manatee

How many marine mammals can you think of? You probably thought of different types of whales and dolphins, but what about different types of manatees? In fact, there are four marine mammals within the order Sirenia, which is the order manatees belong to. Three are manatee species, and one is called the dugong. Dugongs are cousins of manatees, and in many ways, they are very similar. One major difference is the shape of their tail. Manatees have rounded tails, but dugong tails look more like a whale's.

Dugong tails are fluked like a whale, not rounded like a manatee
Dugong tail

The scientific name for the dugong is Dugong dugon, which is pretty easy to remember! Their life cycle and mating habits are similar to those of the manatee species, but there are a few differences, such as how long the calf stays with the mother.

Life Cycle

Dugongs are able to breed and have babies after they are about six years old. This is true of both males and females, though for some males it may be up to 12 years. Dugongs, like manatees, are mammals, which means they give birth to live young and then produce milk and nurse them.

Once the female is pregnant she will carry the unborn baby, called a fetus for 12-14 months before giving birth. This is known as her gestation period. She will give birth to a live baby (as opposed to non-mammals that lay eggs), and then nurse it for a year and a half.

The baby might actually stay with its mother for several years after it is done nursing, at least until she has another baby. Female dugongs only have babies once every two and a half to seven years, so the baby may stay with the mother for quite some time. It may even stay with her until it reaches sexual maturity, at which point it will go off on its own to find a mate.

Essentially, then, the dugong life cycle looks like this: Fetus->baby->young adult->breeding adult. Breeding adult refers to a dugong that is sexually mature.


The mating process itself does vary a little bit, depending on the group of dugongs. Dugongs live in a number of places ranging from Australia up along the coast of East Africa. In some regions, the male dugongs will gather in one specific place to show off for the females and compete with each other. There is no reason for the females to visit this place otherwise, and their only reason for coming is to find mates. Some populations of dugongs off of Western Australia find mates this way.

In other areas males are more aggressive, fighting over mating rights rather than just making displays and competing. One example of this is the dugongs off of Queensland, Australia.

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