The dugong (Dugong dugon) is a large marine mammal which, together with the manatees, is one of four living species of the order Sirenia. It is the only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae; its closest modern relative, Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), was hunted to extinction in the 18th century.These sirenian marine mammals normally feed off sea grass in Australia's northern coastal waters. It is believed that mermaid myths were born from pirates and sailors sighting dugongs.
The dugong has been hunted for thousands of years for its meat and oil, although dugong hunting also has great cultural significance throughout its range. The dugong's current distribution is reduced and disjunct, and many populations are close to extinction.
A dugong reaches sexual maturity between the ages of eight and eighteen, older than in most other mammals. Mating behaviour varies between populations located in different areas. In some populations, males will establish a territory which females in heat will visit. In these areas a male will try to impress the females while defending the area from other males, a practice known as lekking.