A new species of humpback dolphin has been discovered off the northern coast of Australia,. Though it has not been named yet, genetic testing and comparison of physical features have distinguished the species from other humpback dolphins.
Humpbacks have a characteristic bend in their back below the dorsal fin. They are found in Atlantic and Indo-Pacific waters. The humpback dolphins found in the Atlantic are all one species, but this discovery would put a third species in the Indo-Pacific region.
The findings were published in Molecular Ecology and represent a collaboration between several organizations, including American Museum of Natural History and the Wildlife Conservation Society. More than 180 skulls and 235 tissue samples were analyzed for genetic and morphological differences before coming to the conclusion that the researchers were dealing with a brand new species.
The discovery is not only interesting because it adds to the number of animal species on Earth, but understanding differences between dolphin populations will help scientists and conservation workers join forces to protect them as best as they can. As they learn more, their findings could help influence new conservation policies.
Humpback dolphins can grow to be 8 feet (2.4 meters) long, with coloration that ranges from pink to dark grey. Habitat loss and fishing are threatening humpback dolphins. The Atlantic dolphin is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN's Red LIst, while the two previously-discovered Indo-Pacific dolphins are “Near Threatened.”