Meet the legends

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am

Mythical creatures

There are many interesting old legends about dolphins, walruses, and dugongs. Here are some of them.

Dolphin Shape Shifters: Amazon jungle tribes believe that river dolphins can change into handsome young men. The men visit the villages at night to find a bride. But in the morning they have to return to the river and become dolphins again.

Walrus Girl: Some Arctic tribes believe the world was made by a bird god called Raven. When an evil spirit stole the sun and the moon, Raven persuaded the spirit's daughter to give them back. The evil spirit was so angry, he threw his daughter into the sea. As she touched the water, she turned into the first walrus, and her braided hair turned into tusks.

Mermaids and Mermen: Sailors used to tell stories about mermaids, beautiful women with fishtails instead of legs. They also saw fierce mermen who protected their mermaids. Today many people believe these sailors saw dugongs and manatees and mistook them for people.

True or false?

1 Sailors used to mistake river dolphins for mermaids.

2 Arctic tribes believe that the first walrus was an enchanted girl.

3 Amazon tribes believe dolphins can turn into people.

Amazon River dolphin

Choose the correct alternative

Amazon River dolphins live in the Amazon basin in South America. The water there is very dark.

The dolphins find their way around by making high-pitched noises. When the sound bounces back, the dolphins can tell what is in front of them: an underwater tree or a yummy/funny fish. This system is called echolocation.

Amazon river dolphins life/live in groups of six to 12 animals. They play, hunt/hurt and eat together. Their favourite food is fish but they also eat crustaceans and turtles.

These dolphins are very curious and friendly. When people wash their clothes in the river, or go fishing, the dolphins will come to match/watch.


Fill in the gaps with the following words:

weigh, float, slip, pull

Walruses live on the ice fields that _______________in the Arctic Ocean. Although they all look alike, scientists recognise three different species: the Atlantic walrus, the Pacific walrus and the Laptevi walrus. The Pacific walrus is the biggest. Males can be 3.5 metres long and _______________ 2,000kg.

Walruses are famous for their big tusks. They use them to stab their enemies during a fight. They also use their tusks to _______________ themselves out of the water. And sometimes they hook their tusks into the ice so they don't _______________ off while they are sleeping.

Walruses love to eat clams. But they also eat shrimps, crabs, worms, sea cucumber, snails and fish. If they find an injured seal or walrus, they might eat that, too!

The dugong

Find the correct antonyms (words that mean the opposite) of:

deep, defended, gentle, quickly

Dugongs live in shallow, warm coastal waters off tropical East Africa, Asia and Australia. Dugongs are about 2.8 metres long and weigh about 900kg. Males have small ivory tusks that they use to slash each other when fighting.

Dugongs swim along slowly, diving down to eat seagrass and algae. They sometimes also eat snails, shrimps and other crustaceans.

Many dugongs live in pairs. But some live in packs of 200 to 450 animals.

Dugongs are sometimes attacked by sharks and killer whales. Although dugongs look soft and slow, they can be very fierce. When attacked, dugongs get together in a pack and ram the sharks in the gills.

But the dugong's biggest enemy is man. Dugongs are hunted for their meat, hide and teeth. Dugongs are now considered a vulnerable species.

See aquatic mammals in Hong Kong

Dugongs used to live in Hong Kong's Pearl River estuary, but they haven't been seen here for years. Because of habitat destruction, about 20 per cent of the world's dugong population has been killed over the past 100 years.

However, we still have the Chinese white dolphin and the finless porpoise. Check out western waters like Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park, around Lantau Island and Tuen Mun, for dolphins.

Good places to spot the finless porpoise are southern and eastern waters. Try Lamma Island, Peng Chau, Cheung Chau, Waglan Island, Po Toi and the Soko Islands, Sai Kung and Mirs Bay in the New Territories, and Shek O, Stanley, Cape d'Aguilar and Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island.

fab fact!

You can tell how old a tree is by looking at a cross-section of its trunk. A new ring is added each year. You can tell how old a walrus is by looking at its tusks. It has growth rings for each year, too

fab fact!

South American tribes believed killing river dolphins was bad luck. But today river dolphins are killed for skin, fat and meat. Hundreds have been captured and sold to aquariums. But these mammals are very delicate. Of the 100 taken to the US, 80 died within a few months


Dugongs usually dive for 1-4 minutes but they can stay underwater for as long as eight minutes. Walruses can stay underwater for 30 minutes

now do this

Try to answer the following questions without referring to the text

1 Echolocation means finding your way around by ...

a. making sounds and listening to the echoes

b. following the animal in front of you

c. going the same route every day

2 Which animals use echolocation?

a. dugongs

b. walruses

c. dolphins

3 Which animals are famous for their tusks?

a. dugongs

b. walruses

c. dolphins

4 Which animals live in the North Pole?

a. dugongs

b. walruses

c. dolphins

5 What is the dugong's favourite food?

a. seagrass

b. fish

c. sharks

6 What is the Amazon River dolphin's favourite food?

a. seagrass

b. fish

c. sharks

Look online for more about water mammals

Animal myths
Learn about selkies, the kraken, sirens and dozens of other water animal myths and legends.

About dolphins
Learn about the dolphin family and click on the fact sheets to learn more about river and sea dolphins all over the world.

NG walrus
Check out videos and fast facts as well as links to other water mammals.

Nat Geo Wild
You can see Amazon River dolphins in Amazonia's Giant Jaws on Saturday at 11pm and Sunday at 1am and 5pm. Dugongs can be seen in Crittercam - Wild Tech Adventures: Dugongs on Sunday at 6.30pm on Nat Geo Wild.


June 3

Synonyms: steal, weakness, sewage

Antonyms: biggest, pest, dangerous

Fill in the gaps: enters, travel, block

True or false: F, T, F

Quiz: 1. c, 2. b, 3. a, 4. c, 5. b