Friday, December 28, 2012

Creature Feature: Dugong.

Ever wonder how stories of mermaids got started? Like, who decided to put a hot lady on a fish's body? It was obviously someone very drunk and/or creative. It's not like a normal person could look at any sea mammal and go, "hey, that looks like a woman with a tail! I should say hi."


Oh, hell. With a tail like that and a little bit of liquor, that could totally pass for a mermaid.

That, by the way, is a dugong (Dugong dugon). No, not Dewgong- the animal came first. Dugongs are sirenids, making them related to manatees and, more loosely, elephants, tenrecs, and hyraxes. They live in most of the warmer waters around the world, including those around Africa, Australia, China, and the islands around those areas. They are mostly herbivorous, but some populations are omnivores, munching on invertebrates when grass is not available.

For those of you curious about the nomenclature, the odd name comes from the Malayan word for "mermaid." The idea seems pretty universal, with people all the way in Kenya considering dugongs feminine. Indonesians even consider them reincarnations of women. If any sea mammal can be considered a basis or mermaids, this is the one. Instant mermaid: just add rum.

(c) Mandy Episton.

That said, outside of being mermaids, dugongs are fascinating creatures. The tail is fluked like that of a whale or dolphin; this allows it to 'stand' in shallower waters and keep its head above the sea in order to take a breath. Speaking of, dugong lungs are very long, extending all the way down to their kidneys. This arrangement helps balance out the dugong's buoyant blubber.

The dugong is always culturally-significant in the areas in which it is found. Catching a dugong can be seen as either good or bad luck, depending on where you go. In Thailand, the tears are an aphrodisiac; the Indians are more rational and use its meat for sexual potency. The list of things dugong can be used for goes on, possibly into the Bible.

Under the sea, under the sea~

Alas, the dugong is nearing endangered status, and it's entirely our fault. Its meat, oil, skin, and bones are all valuable. They are big, docile, and slow-moving, making them easy targets.  Let's not even get into how humans are polluting the ocean and cutting up sea cows with boats. Once you learn that everybody eats dugong meat, all other reasons seem miniscule by comparison. Luckily, most areas with dugongs have some regulations on hunting them. Good luck enforcing that.

Oh, and yes, dugong has a Poke-sona in Dewgong, the evolution of Seel. Real dugongs, however, cannot handle icy water period, let alone swim through it at high speeds. Sorry, but this Water-Type will not be learning Ice Beam aaaany time soon. Still, save the mermaids!

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