New dolphin species discovered off Australia

By Hsin-Yi Lo 11 November 2013
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A new species of humpback dolphin has been identified in Australian waters.

A NEW HUMPBACK DOLPHIN species has been described off the north coast of Australia.

The as yet unnamed animal was discovered by international scientists studying the number of species of humpback dolphin, which are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans along the coasts of Africa, India and Australia.

“The discovery of a new species…is always exciting and we are of course delighted,” says Dr Guido Parra, a biologist and research leader of the Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL) at Flinders University in Adelaide.

Distinct humpback dolphin species in Australia

Prior to this study, led by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), humpback dolphins were divided into an Atlantic and an Indo-Pacific species.

For the study, the team looked at 180 skulls and tissues samples from 230 dolphins. Dr Howard Rosenbaum, a WCS biologist, says it was one of the most rigorous analysese to date of these dolphins. The morphological and genetic data, detailed in the journal Molecular Ecology, suggests that Australian humpback dolphins are an isolated population.

“Previously, humpback dolphins throughout the Indo-Pacific were treated as a single species,” Guido told Australian Geographic. “The discovery that Australian humpback dolphins are a separate species from those in south-east Asia has important conservation implications as they need to be considered separately from populations elsewhere.”

New dolphin important for conservation

The new species grows up to 2.8m in length and is found all around the north of Australia from Queensland and the NT, to Shark Bay in WA. The dolphins live in coastal waters, deltas, estuaries and inshore reefs.

“Discovering a new species increases our knowledge about nature,” Howard says. “In the current context of biodiversity decline and urgent need of effective wildlife and habitat conservation schemes, this knowledge allows…plans tailored to protecting each species along its distribution areas.”

Guido says further research is being conducted into the dolphins’ habitats, social structure and population numbers to better target conservation efforts.