A previously unknown species of humpback dolphin has been discovered in the waters off northern Australia. Researchers say it now becomes the fourth member of a family of humpback dolphins named for an unusual hump just below its dorsal fin.
An international team, including researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Museum of Natural History, analyzed 235 tissue samples from humpback dolphins found from the eastern Atlantic to the western Pacific oceans, analyzing the samples for significant variations in DNA.
Scientists also compared physical features from 180 humpback dolphins skulls found on beaches in Atlantic and Pacific regions or from museum collections. Investigators concluded the still unnamed Australian humpback is genetically distinct.
The newly identified species grows to 2.5 meters in length and ranges from dark gray to pink or white in color.
In addition to the Australian humpback, there is the Atlantic humpback dolphin that swims in the eastern Atlantic off West Africa, the Indo-Pacific species that lives in the western to central Indian Ocean and another Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin that inhabits the waters of the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans. They are all considered "vulnerable" or "threatened" species, due to habitat loss.
The researchers say the discovery will improve decision-making about conservation policies to protect the dolphins' genetic diversity and their habitats.
Discovery of the Australian humpback dolphin is announced in the latest issue of Molecular Biology.