I have been lucky enough to dive with both manatees and dugongs. I dove with a dugong in the Red Sea back in 2013 and I dove with manatees in Florida the other week. The manatee experience was more moving to me as I spent more time with it than I did with the dugong. The dugong just popped across to say hello and then vanished just as quickly as it arrived.
In the picture above you can see the main differences between a West Indian manatee and a dugong. They are similar animals coming from the same order – sirenia. There are three species of manatee and one of the dugong. Manatees are classified as West Indian, Amazonian and West African. The West Indian manatee is the only manatee that moves between fresh and salt water habitats. The other two remain in their fresh water homes.
Manatees’ main threat is us. They have very few, if not any, natural predators for manatees. The main source of manatee deaths come from being hit by fast moving boats (either by the hull or the propellor) or from getting caught in fishing equipment (such as nets and lines). Dugongs are threatened in a similar manner.
Manatees and dugongs have both been considered the inspiration of sailors tales about mermaids. But having seen both of them in the wild I can vouch that they are not the prettiest of creatures, so perhaps the sailors had ingested more than their daily ration of rum that day.