lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

D is for Dugong

Dugong Christian Haugen

This wonderful picture of an amiable, gentle, slow, inoffensive dugong was taken by Christian Haugen on Flikr.

Dugong and their relatives, manatees, both in the order sirenia, are the only completely vegetarian sea creatures.

They eat by uprooting whole sea grasses from the ocean floor, detecting them using the bristles on their upper lip, and leave distinctive trails on the ocean floor. It has been shown that they can manipulate the growth and regeneration of these fast growing plants.

But they have to rise to the surface every few minutes to breathe – so one of the threats to dugong are fishing nets; they are slow moving and easily become entangled, and because they need air they drown very quickly.

Dugong have only one baby every 5 years or so, and nurse them on milk from nipples that are between their front flippers – behaviour that may have contributed to sailors thinking they were sea women or mermaids.

This slow rate of reproduction is not fast enough to compensate for all the threats dugong are facing. Their sea grasses are affected by tidal flooding due to climate warming and human interference, they are killed for their meat and oil, and are affected by coastal pollution.

They have become extinct in many of their former areas and the biggest population is now in Australian waters, between Shark Bay and Moreton Bay in Queensland. They are classed as Vulnerable by Queensland Nature Conservation Act.

Here is my Dugong poem:




Dugong swim in sea grass,

graceful, wild and free,

the only veggie creatures

in the deep, blue sea,


sailors thought them mermaids,

they heard sirens sing

from the ocean depths

where the dugong swim.


Now these gentle sea cows

that pose no earthly threat

often get entangled

and drown in fishing net;


there’s loss of waving grasses

where dugong graze and roam,

pesticides and flooding

destroy their ocean home.


Will we hear on stormy nights

as our greed grows on,

the ghostly song of mermaids

when all dugong are gone?


© Liz Brownlee


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Information from:



Photo by Christian Haugen on Flikr by Creative Commons license.

Poem © Liz Brownlee, not for reproduction.


  1. I had never heard of them before. Terrible what man does to the other inhabitants of this planet.


  2. Wait. You said, “they can manipulate the growth and regeneration of these fast growing plants.” …So, they can, in a sense, ‘farm.’ That is about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.


    • Yep! Undersea farmers! Mind you, many animals unwittingly ‘farm’ by spreading the seeds of the trees for instance that they feed on, bats for example. But ‘manipulation’ is different, and implies forethought and planning.


  3. They really do look like albino manatees and are also gentle. Your poem is so sad and it is sad to know how we are destroying these animals for what? Greed, food, coats, make-up, …makes me sick


  4. Beautiful, sad, wonderful. I’ve loved them ever since I was a child. Such a great poem.


  5. Excellent post, Liz. I have snorkelled with manatees and was enchanted by these animals. Your poem is very poignant.


  6. A beautiful but sad poem, it made me cry. I hate what humans are doing to this planet and the wild creatures living on it 😦


  7. Beautiful.


  8. What a beautiful poem. I had not head of a dugong only manatees. It is a shame so many of our sea creatures are endangered because of humanity’s carelessness,
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)


    • Thank you Tasha! The seas give us life, too, so we are very unwise, sadly governments can only see to pleasing their people for the next few years and don’t think of the future at all.


  9. I know one shouldn’t say it but that dugong looks as if it’s smiling! Poignant poem, Liz.


    • It does doesn’t it, and, apparently, seen from above (they sometimes stand on their tails in the water) they have quite shapely flipper ‘arms’ and upper bodies which may have suggested the female body to lonesome women-starved sailors.


  10. Beautiful poem! It is sad that such majestic creatures are threatened by human actions. I have never seen a dugong, but I saw a manatee in Florida once, and it was so amazing to watch it slowly swim by.

    Thank you for visiting my page yesterday!
    Elizabeth @ Liz’s Random Ponderings


    • Thank you, Elizabeth! (Another great name!). I would love to see a manatee – thank you for visiting back!


  11. My 5-yr-old and I read this together, too. We didn’t know of a creature called a dugong before!


    • 🙂 They don’t look as cute as pandas and they have no fur – but I find their faces incredibly dear…


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