Manatee Swimming Underwater

Dugong vs. Manatee: What's the Difference?

If you've found your way to our website, you probably know at least a thing or two about manatees. However, if you've ever heard of a dugong before, you might be a little confused about how these two animals are different. 

A lot of people assume that because dugongs and manatees look so similar, they are in fact, the same animal with a different name. In fact, while dugongs and manatees are both members of the order Sirenia, they are entirely different species (as are the West Indian, Amazonian, and West African varieties of manatees). 

Here, we'll break down some of the distinct differences in the dugong vs manatee so that you can correctly identify the two. Maybe you'll even impress your friends with your extensive dugong knowledge. 

Physical Differences 

While manatees and dugongs may look very similar, there are some key differences that make them distinguishable from each other. Two of the biggest differences are the tails and snouts of these two creatures. 

Manatees have a rounded, flat tail shaped like a paddle with only one lobe. This tail is similar in appearance to a beavertail and moves up and down to help slowly propel the manatee forward. Dugongs, on the other hand, have a fluked tail, which means it has two lobes that join together in the middle. 

The other main difference is the size and shape of the snout. Manatees have a relatively short, rounded snout with a divided upper lip that helps them to gather food at the surface of the water. Dugongs have a slightly longer, trunk-like snout with a mouth that turns downward. This is great for feeding off of the ocean floor. 


One major difference between the manatee and the dugong is their natural environment. 

Dugongs live mostly in the shallow waters of East Africa to Australia (the Indo-West Pacific). Dugongs never leave saltwater and feed almost entirely on seagrass. 

Manatees, on the other hand, can actually live in both freshwater and saltwater. While the Amazonian manatee lives in only freshwater, West Indian and West African manatees spend most of their time in saltwater but migrate into warmer freshwater sanctuaries when the weather gets colder. 

Social Differences 

While manatees and dugongs both live relatively solitary lives, there are also some key social differences.

A manatee has an average lifespan of around 40 years and leads a polygamist lifestyle when it comes to partners. A male manatee will likely have several female partners. Once a female reaches maturity, they can give birth every two to five years with a different partner. 

Dugongs, however, live nearly double that of the manatee (around 70 years on average). Dugongs are serious monogamists, meaning that they will have only one partner throughout their lives. Females begin birthing around ten years old but still will have calves every three to five years. 

Dugong vs Manatee: What You Should Know

While there are some key differences between the dugong vs manatee, there are still lots of similarities. One of the big similarities is unfortunately that both animals are threatened. 

However, hopefully now with this new knowledge, you can learn more about how to protect both the dugong and the manatee so they can both continue to exist. 

Contact us today to learn more about what you can do to protect manatees! 

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