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Dugongs and Mermaids

Recently, guests of Murex Bangka had a wonderful sighting of a Dugong and were able to video it foraging for food. Since many Facebook followers seemed to be interested in the video, we decided to post a little information on this loveable creature that is said to be the inspiration for the mermaid lore.

O.K. now if you’ve seen a Dugong you’re probably thinking “it’s cute and an amazing creature, but a mermaid”? We’ll let’s keep in mind, sailors back in the day didn’t have motors and let’s face it, they were at sea for long periods of time. Maybe they were a bit delusional or dehydrated? Christopher Columbus had written in his ships log that he had seen mermaids on his journey to the new world, but thought they would be more attractive.

These large aquatic mammals are notable for the way in which they carry their young, cradled in their arms much as a human would carry a baby. Usually feeding in sea grass, is it possible when surfacing the sea grass stuck to them and resembled hair? It is possible that sailors seeing these unfamiliar beasts for the first time would assume that they had in fact stumbled across some sort of humanoid species? Old Chris was the Captain and as the captain he had better rations than the crew, maybe he was seeing things a little clearer than the rest?

Not to be confused with their “cousin” the Manatee, Dugongs are easily distinguishable from the manatee by its fluked, dolphin-like tail, but also possesses a unique skull and teeth. The dugong is heavily dependent on sea grasses for subsistence and is thus restricted to the coastal habitats where they grow. Coastal areas around Bangka Island are feeding grounds for Dugongs and although they are special and rare that’s where our divers usually have sightings.

The Dugong or “sea cow” has good eyesight and excellent hearing, and can swim at 20 kph over short distances. They can measure up 3 m long and weighing up to 450 kg – the dugong resembles an overweight dolphin. Dugongs have a similar lifespan to humans, living up to 70 years. If you are lucky enough to see one enjoy the privilege of a close encounter with this rare and gentle animal.


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