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Dugong and Manatees

The Sirenia, commonly referred to as sea cows, are an order of aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands, and coastal marine waters. That said, the Sirenia comprise the families Dugongidae (the dugong) and Trichechidae (manatees). Interestingly, sirenians are in the clade Paenungulata, alongside the elephants and hyraxes, and evolved in the Eocene 50 million years ago.

Large animals, sirenia grow to between 2.5 and 4 metres (8.2 and 13.1 feet) in length and 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) in weight. In fact, the now extinct Steller’s sea cow was the largest sirenian to have lived. It could reach lengths of 8 metres (26 feet) and weights of 8 to 10 metric tons (8.8 to 11.0 short tons). Sirenians have a large, tubular body that prevents drag through the water. Additionally, their heavy bones act as ballasts to counteract the buoyancy of their blubber. Because of their thin layer of blubber, they are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Hence, they migrate when water temperatures dip too low.

These mammals are slow-moving, typically coasting at 8 kilometres per hour (5.0 miles per hour). However, they can reach 24 kilometres per hour (15 miles per hour) in short bursts. They use their strong lips to pull out seagrasses, consuming 10–15% of their body weight per day.

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