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understanding marine life


Sea cow - also called siren (Latin Sirenidae) – have ever since given reasons for speculations and myths. Even Odysseus has been entrapped by them and they have been inspiration for the mermaids, too.


To make it easy they are mostly called cows, since as their rural namesake they are also vegetarian. But apart from that they don’t have anything else in common. Their close relatives are other pachyderm – the elephants. Unlike other mammals, e.g. seal, sea cows are not able to move on land. Furthermore, they cannot swim far into the open waters like wales or dolphins do. They rather prefer to stay close to the shore at the depth of 10 metres. Every few minutes they ascend to the surface to breath and can hold their breath for maximum 8 -12 minutes.

Today there are only two families of the sea cow: the manatees (those with round shaped tail) that contain three different types and live in Atlantic. And there are Dugongs (those with crescent shaped tails) that live in Indo-Pacific area and thus in the Red Sea. They exclusively live in shallow, tropical coastal areas. Quite often remoras are accompanying them, they stick to the cow with their sucker and wait to get something eatable from time to time.


Unfortunately, it is less known about the social behaviour of Dugong. Normally they live single or in small families and swim next to each other then. There is no timed mating season. The only known connection is between mother and pup that stays with its mother for two years. After the 11 to 13-months long gestation period the sea cow gives birth to only one pup that is approximately 1m long and weights 25kg. It can swim independently straight from the beginning.


The grown-up animal can be between 2 and 4 metres long and weight up to 900 kg. Sea cows are solely vegetarian. To get the little energy from the plants they possess astonishingly long intestine and eat up to 40 kg seagrass during the day. Their body is hairless apart from a few bristles around snout. They have a very well developed sense of hearing thus they can communicate among themselves by squeaking and piping. The small eyes are less efficient, without lashes and eyelid. Like other mammals living in the water sea cows have got a very good grease film that serves them as an energy store as well as a heat buffer. For an ordinary person it is quite difficult to distinguish between a male and a female animal since the sexual organs are hidden in a skin fold in the stomach area. The natural lifespan of a sea cow is 50 years – that is astonishingly high. However, not all of them reach this age.


Besides humans their enemies are bigger sharks and orcas. A few specimen of once huge population are left today. For a long time they have been hunted due to their meat. Still today they die in the nets of turtle hunters or on their injuries because of the boats.

For a fairly long time it has been forbidden for boats to enter the area around Abu Dabab in order to protect the sea cows. All guides (snorkel and diving guides) have been instructed to encourage their guests to watch the sea cow only and to avoid any body contact.


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