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Dugongs vs. Manatees: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 13, 2023
Dugongs, marine mammals with a forked tail, live in warm coastal waters; manatees, with a round tail, inhabit fresh and saltwater environments.

Key Differences

Dugongs possess a distinctive dolphin-like tail that significantly sets them apart from manatees. Manatees showcase a paddle-shaped tail, which is often used to distinguish them from their dugong counterparts.
Manatees generally have a more flexible neck and can move their head around. Dugongs, on the other hand, have less flexible necks, resulting in limited lateral head movement compared to manatees.
Dugongs primarily inhabit the warm coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. In contrast, manatees, distributed in the Atlantic Ocean, can be found in freshwater springs, slow rivers, and estuarine environments, showcasing their adaptability to both fresh and saltwater conditions.
Dugongs display a more whale-like physique, generally sleeker than manatees. Manatees exhibit a bulkier, more robust frame, which easily helps observers discern them from dugongs.
A unique aspect of dugongs lies in their largely herbivorous diet consisting of sea grasses. While manatees, too, primarily consume a variety of submerged and emergent vegetation, they occasionally feed on fish and small invertebrates, showing a slightly varied diet compared to dugongs.

Comparison Chart

Tail Shape

Forked, fluked tail
Broad, rounded paddle-shaped tail


Warm coastal waters
Fresh and saltwater environments

Physical Form

Sleeker body
Robust, more barrel-shaped body

Neck Flexibility

Limited neck flexibility
More flexible neck

Geographic Range

Indian and western Pacific Oceans
Atlantic Ocean, including freshwater

Dugongs and Manatees Definitions


Dugongs are marine mammals recognized for their forked tails.
Dugongs can often be seen grazing on seagrasses in warm, shallow waters.


Manatees have the capability to inhabit both fresh and saltwater environments.
Manatees are often observed in the freshwater springs of Florida.


Dugongs primarily subsist on a diet of seagrass.
Dugongs utilize their bristled, downward-facing snouts to feed on seagrasses.


Manatees are large, gentle aquatic mammals with rounded tail flippers.
Manatees, known for their calm demeanor, are a favorite among eco-tourists.


Dugongs are found mainly in warm coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
Dugongs are often spotted in the warm, tranquil waters of the Red Sea.


Manatees primarily consume vegetation but can occasionally consume small aquatic animals.
Manatees can be spotted grazing on seagrasses in shallow waters.


Dugongs exhibit a slightly downturned, truncated snout.
The unique snouts of dugongs facilitate efficient feeding on seagrass beds.


Manatees have a characteristically flexible neck which enables them to turn their heads.
Manatees utilize their flexible necks to efficiently graze on vegetation around them.


Dugongs have a sleek, streamlined body adapted to their aquatic environment.
Dugongs, with their smooth bodies, glide effortlessly through the water.


Manatees exhibit a more robust and barrel-shaped physique compared to dugongs.
Manatees, with their bulky bodies, move gracefully through the water despite their size.


A herbivorous marine mammal (Dugong dugon), native to tropical coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and southwest Pacific Ocean and having flipperlike forelimbs and a notched tail.


Any of various herbivorous aquatic mammals of the genus Trichechus, having paddlelike front flippers and a horizontally flattened tail and found in warm coastal waters and rivers in Florida, northern South America, West Africa, and the Caribbean.


Plural of dugong


Plural of manatee


Where can dugongs be found?

Dugongs are typically found in the warm coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.

What are manatees?

Manatees are large, gentle marine mammals, recognizable by their rounded, paddle-shaped tails.

What do dugongs eat?

Dugongs primarily consume seagrasses found in their coastal habitats.

Where are manatees located?

Manatees are found in the Atlantic Ocean and can inhabit both fresh and saltwater environments.

What are dugongs?

Dugongs are marine mammals, primarily eating seagrasses and known for their forked tails.

Are dugongs and manatees related to each other?

Yes, dugongs and manatees are related and both belong to the Sirenia order of marine mammals.

Do dugongs and manatees have similar lifespans?

Generally, yes; dugongs and manatees can both live up to 60 years, though their life expectancy in the wild might be shorter due to various threats.

How do manatees and dugongs adapt to their aquatic environments?

Dugongs have streamlined bodies for efficient swimming in coastal waters, while manatees, adaptable to various water types, have a robust form and a flexible neck.

Can dugongs and manatees live in the same habitats?

While they can both inhabit warm environments, dugongs prefer coastal waters, and manatees can be found in both fresh and saltwater locations.

How do manatees interact with each other?

Manatees are generally solitary but are also known to engage in non-aggressive interactions and form loose aggregations in areas with abundant food.

How do dugongs and manatees reproduce?

Dugongs and manatees have a slow reproduction rate, with females typically giving birth to a single calf after a year-long gestation period.

What do manatees eat?

Manatees mainly eat aquatic vegetation but can occasionally consume small aquatic animals.

How can we differentiate dugongs from manatees by their tail?

Dugongs have a forked, fluked tail, while manatees have a broad, rounded, paddle-shaped tail.

What is the conservation status of manatees?

Manatees are also at risk, facing threats from habitat loss, boat strikes, and entanglement in fishing gear, among other issues.

What kind of social structure do dugongs have?

Dugongs are often solitary but can also be found in pairs or small groups, especially females with calves.

What is the conservation status of dugongs?

Dugongs are listed as vulnerable to extinction due to threats like gill-netting, hunting, and habitat loss.

What are the primary threats to dugongs?

Primary threats to dugongs include hunting, gill-netting, and habitat destruction, especially of seagrass beds.

What factors endanger manatees in their habitats?

Manatees face threats from boat collisions, loss of warm-water habitats, and environmental pollution, among others.

How do manatees communicate with each other?

Manatees communicate through vocalizations like squeaks and squeals to maintain contact, especially between mother and calf.

How do dugongs communicate?

Dugongs communicate using a variety of sounds, including barks, chirps, and trills, particularly between mother and calf.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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