Difference Between Dugongs and Manatees

Dugongs vs Manatees

Dugongs and manatees are sea mammals that are both of the order Sirenia. They are commonly referred to as sea cows and are said to be the inspiration for the mermaid lore. The two animals are of similar looks and build, but each possesses unique characteristics.


Dugongs are large marine mammals that are found near coasts around the Pacific and Africa. They have a fusiform physique and their color range from a pale cream when they are young to dark grey when they mature. They also have a tail similar to dolphins, that is to say, it’s fluke-like. Dugongs are the only Sirenians that can be found only in saltwater and their diet consists only of seagrass.


Manatees are Sirenians that have almost the same body structure as their cousins, the dugongs, except for the tail. They have paddle-like tails instead. They are found throughout the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and Africa. Unlike the dugongs, they migrate to freshwater as they cannot survive temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius. Manatees are voracious herbivores and their diet consists mostly of plants like mangroves, turtle grass and some algae.

Difference between Dugongs and Manatees

Dugongs and manatees are cousins which is why they have many similarities. Like their bodies for example. They essentially have the same body structure except for their tails. While considered large sea mammals, dugongs are actually smaller compared to manatees. Another difference in their bodies is their snouts. Manatees have a prehensile upper lip that they use to gather food and they have a generally shorter snout compared to dugongs. Manatees also don’t have incisors while dugongs have tusks. Both animals are considered vulnerable to extinction and strict laws are in place for their conservation.

Dugongs and manatees are wonderful creatures; however their populations have dwindled due to hunting and other human and environmental hazards.

In brief:

1. Dugongs and manatees are sea mammals of order Sirenia. They have fusiform bodies, although manatees have paddle-like tails while dugongs have fluke-like tails.

2. Both can be found in saltwater, however dugongs are confined to saltwater only while manatees usually migrate to freshwater sources during winter. Manatees are found in the Caribbean towards South America and in Africa while dugongs are common to the Pacific.

3. Manatees can eat almost any sea plants as well as some algae while dugongs are limited to sea grass only.