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Dougie: Our favourite dugong

By | Wildlife

Dougie: Our favourite dugong

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A day out to the Tangalooma Wrecks site at Moreton Island will be a fun-filled adventure you won’t soon forget! You will come face to face with a variety of marine creatures – ranging from colourful marine reef fish swimming in formation, live corals and strange looking starfish and sea urchins hiding amongst the reef. If you are lucky you may spot a green sea turtle gliding through the water or having a snooze on the sandy bottom. Pods of dolphins can also be encountered and, because they are naturally curious, they often swim very close to the boat and playfully ride the bow wave. Don’t forget your camera!

An encounter with one of the dugongs that call Moreton Bay home may well be on the cards. But don’t forget, dugongs are shy in nature and can be elusive. This just makes spotting one all the more exciting! Dugongs spend the majority of their days swimming peacefully through the shallows searching for food and munching on seagrass. They venture to the surface to breathe and have a quick look around, but unfortunately their eyesight is considered poor. Our crew will be on high alert – using their well-trained eyes to look for subtle clues that a dugong is nearby. As they search the shallow waters for these timid creatures often the first thing they see is a big brown or grey snout poking above the water. Dugongs surface with their snout to easily exhale and then take in a breath of fresh air. If you look closely you may see all the whiskers (vibrissae) around their mouth. Next, you may see a broad back break the water’s surface. If you see long scratches along the back, you have most likely spotted an adult female dugong.

 

The most well-known resident dugong we encounter on our tours is Dougie the dugong! His home range surrounds the Tangalooma Wrecks, and he is often seen patrolling for any adult females venturing into his territory. Dougie is always keen to meet (and chase!) the local females. Dougie, like other mature male dugongs, has two small tusks in his mouth. He can use these to compete with other males in his bid to win over a female. If Dougie wins the match, he will begin courting the adult female, and he will use his tusks to give her a back scratch, covering her back with marks. If you are lucky enough to see Dougie, have a good look to see if he has any fresh tusk wounds from recent battles with other males.

 

Each day, Dougie will spend most of his time diving to the seafloor to search for, locate and then slurp up patches of seagrass. He uses the sensitive bristles arranged around his upper lip to find, grasp and pull up seagrasses by their roots. Dougie, like other dugongs, uses his whiskers and snout like a vacuum, leaving the sandy bottom covered with track lines. Recent research tells us that dugongs are not herbivores, as was previously thought. They are mostly vegetarian, with the majority of their diet consisting of seagrasses. However, scientists have learned that dugongs will also snack on tiny creatures living along the sandy bottom (macro-invertebrates), such as ascidians (or sea squirts). Dougie may live to be 70 years old, grow to 3 metres in length and tip the scales at 400 kg.

 

Moreton Bay’s dugong population is thought to be somewhere between 600 and 800. This population is special for several reasons. Firstly, it is considered the largest population of dugongs living so close to a big city like Brisbane. Secondly, the Moreton Bay dugong population is located at the southern limit to their range on the east coast of Australia. Dugongs prefer warmer water temperatures and in Moreton Bay the sea surface temperature ranges from a chilly 18.0°C in winter to a cosy 27.0°C in summer. Thirdly, dugongs are quite rare around the globe, partly because they reach maturity late in life and don’t breed extensively. Also, they are heavily reliant on seagrass beds being plentiful and healthy, which requires good water quality and low pollution levels. Sadly, dugongs are classified as vulnerable in Queensland waters. So be sure to give Dougie a wave if you are lucky enough to see him!

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The wonderful wildlife of Moreton Island: Animals you are likely to see on a trip with us

By | Wildlife

The wonderful wildlife of Moreton Island: Animals you are likely to see on a trip with us

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Home to the famed Tangalooma Wrecks and a world-renowned destination for encountering dolphins, dugongs and sea turtles, a cruise to Moreton Island is a nature lover’s dream. See Moreton’s onboard marine naturalists have been working with the incredible animals for over a decade and have the experience to give you the closest wildlife encounters possible. Here’s what to look out for…

Bottlenose dolphins

Moreton Bay’s friendliest residents are undoubtedly the dolphins. Moreton Bay Marine Park is home to two dolphin species: the Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin and the Australian humpback dolphin. Dolphins are highly intelligent, social creatures that are known for their playful and interactive encounters with people. Bottlenose dolphins are commonly found swimming within the surrounds of Moreton Bay and an encounter with them will likely be a joyous one, for their friendly nature leads them to deliberately seek out human interaction. They have a short, thick beak and a curved mouth, giving the appearance that they are always smiling. As social creatures, they travel in pods of around 10 to 15 dolphins. Find them frolicking around the Tangalooma Wrecks, particularly in the afternoon.

 

Australian humpback dolphins

If you’re really lucky, you may spot the rare Australian humpback dolphin, whose population is estimated to number less than 100. This dolphin was only described as a separate species in 2014. They get their name from their elongated dorsal fin and humpback appearance, which arises from the accumulation of fatty tissue on their backs as they age. Their mounded forehead and long beaks also differentiate them from other dolphin species. Lucky for us, they are mostly found in shallow nearshore waters, often at the mouths of estuaries and in tidal channels. They are often observed in smaller groups of 2 to 4 and, unlike bottlenose dolphins, do not bow ride. Instead, they like to leap clear from the water! Search for splashes and dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface.

 

Dugongs

The dugong is the only plant-eating mammal that lives its entire life in the water. They have been nicknamed “sea cows” by some, as they are slow moving and spend most of their day feeding on seagrass. Intriguingly, dugongs are more closely related to elephants than any other marine animal. Dugongs have relatively poor eyesight, so they rely on the sensitive bristles covering their snouts to find and grasp seagrass. They may live up to 70 years and are slow breeders – female dugongs not breeding until they are at least 10 to 17 years old. Moreton Bay Marine Park is the southern limit of dugong activity along the east coast of Australia, and is home to approximately 600 to 800 of these gentle sea creatures. If you are lucky enough to spot a dugong, chances are it’s our resident local, Dougie!

 

Sea turtles

Six out of the world’s seven species of sea turtles can be found in Moreton Bay. This is a pretty special feat considering the island is so close to a capital city. Those most commonly seen on a visit to Moreton Island include green turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles. Moreton Island’s seagrass meadows provide local turtles with the ultimate dining experience. Green turtles will feast on the seagrass meadows themselves, while loggerheads will munch on the shellfish, sea urchins, crabs and jellyfish that call the meadows home. Turtles are extraordinary navigators and often nest at the same beaches they were hatched. While they do spend a lot of time napping on the seafloor, they occasionally venture up to the surface for air – and to say hello to us, of course! Listen out for squeals of delight from passengers when one is spotted.

 

Birds

Over 180 species of birds have been recorded from Moreton Island, including pelicans, sea eagles, brahminy kites and pied cormorants. Many of these birds are rescue animals that have been saved and released onto the island. Australian pelicans are one of the largest flying birds in the world, and hold the record for the longest beak! Sea eagles are large birds of prey with big, hooked beaks for catching fish. Spot these birds flying high in the sky in circular motions. Brahminy kites are also birds of prey, often seen perched for long periods of time before swooping down onto prey in the water or ground. Pied cormorants are pro fish hunters, plunging themselves deep into the water when chasing prey. They may even eat the fish underwater! Be sure to say hello to our favourite pied cormorant, Georgie. And don’t worry – she isn’t camera shy.

 

Fish

Moreton Island is a haven for over 100 unique species of fish, including mullet, crescent perch and southern soft-spined sunfish. Luckily for us, the island’s subtropical climate means we see both tropical and temperate varieties of fish. The diversity is truly incredible. Witness it for yourself on the snorkelling tour, and during fish feeding.

Although not an extensive list of all the wonderful creatures that call Moreton Island home, this list provides a starting point and guide for the animals you may want to keep a lookout for while on your Dolphin & Tangalooma Wrecks Cruise with See Moreton. Spot dolphins, dugongs and turtles on a See Moreton Marine Discovery Cruise and meet Georgie the cormorant, who will be there waiting to snag up some food during your fish feeding session. With our expert tour guides and marine naturalists, you are bound to experience the best of Moreton Island. Just remember, keep your eyes open and your cameras ready!

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