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Dugongs

Koh Lanta Diving | Koh Lanta Dugong watching tours

The dugong (Dugong dugong) is a rare mammal, that lives along the Andaman Sea coast of the provinces Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun.

It feeds on seaweed and was a usual sight in the shallow waters some decades ago. It has a very long life cycle. It is capable of reproduction only when it is 9 years or older. It has a gestation period of about 385 to 400 days and gives birth to one or (no more than) two young at a time. It takes the female at least 2 years to become pregnant again after giving birth to a baby.

In ancient times people mistakenly believed the dugong to be the fabled mermaid, as portrayed in many old tales and mythological stories. Today the dugong is known as "Pla Phayun" in Thai language, but also called water hog or sea cow. It shares the same ancestors as the elephant and was originally a land creature but later went to live in the sea like the whale. The female has a pair of breasts under its flippers. It breathes with lungs and has to rise to the surface of the sea to inhale fresh air every 3 to 5 minutes. For this reason, it is found only in shallow water about 3 to 5 meters deep, where seaweed grows in abundance.

With tin mining operations moving from the land to off-shore locations, most of their habitat was destroyed and the only place, where sightings are rarely, but still reported are the shallow waters around Libong Island near Koh Lanta. The dugong has also been a favorite object of fishing because almost every part of its body, flesh, bones, tusks, fat and even tears, can fetch a good price. Its flesh is delicious, its bones are believed to have medicinal properties and its tears to give a woman the power of fascinating a man.

With tourism being a major source of income for Southern Thailand, this situation is improving slowly; already since 1961, there are laws protecting the dugong from fishing and requiring its release back into the sea even when one is caught in the net accidentally.


Last Updated: 24 Jan 2008