Dugong Photos on a Single Breath
I have been photographing dugongs since 2012. My first encounter was very emotional, especially because I met this huge animal on New Year's day. It emerged out of nowhere, eating the sea grass and coming right at me. Being observed by snorkelers from the surface, we spent almost one hour swimming next to each other. As both of us were underwater on a single breath, it felt like having a new freedive buddy.
Since then, I have met 5 different dugongs. Some of them were young and shy, some of them old and nervous, but my favorite dugong is an adult specimen living in Marsa Mubarak (bay in the Red Sea). This bay is located close to a hotel with diving centre, so this individual is often observed by divers or snorkelers. Because of that, he lost his natural shyness.
Some divers complain that they spent 2 weeks diving in Marsa Mubarak and did not see any dugongs. But this is not my case. I know the spots with fresh grass that he likes and also the time he comes for breakfast and dinner. Because of this knowledge, on 90% of my dives in the bay I end up photographing this marine mammal.
My rules are: 1) don´t touch it, and 2) don´t stress it. When I see that my presence is not welcomed, I move back to give him some space. I also never touch any marine mammals, although the dugong touched me accidently on several occasions. I belive this is because he is used to me and sometimes he is just too big and too lazy. So it is easier to push me a little bit instead of swimming around.
A few times I also witnessed this dugong attacking grean sea turtles. At the beginning it looked like the encounter had some sexual context, but later on I realised that it is probably territorial behaviour related to fighting for the grass. In other words, the dugong probably believes that the bay and all grass in it belongs to him, and other grass eaters are not welcomed in his reach.
Anyways, freediving with dugongs is a great opportunity for wide-angle photographers. This 3 metre long, 500 kilo heavy, shalow water living, slow moving object is the perfect model for all cameras and fisheye lenses. Just wait for the best light, then possition the dugong between your dome port and sun rays, wait for the best moment, and the perfect image is yours.
The dugong (Dugong dugon) is the only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae. The dugong's current distribution is reduced and disjunct, and many populations are close to extinction. Despite being listed among species vulnerable to extinction, most people are not even aware of its existence.
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