SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Australian researchers said Tuesday they have identified a new species of dolphin living in the coastal waters of northern Australia.
The Australian Snubfin Dolphin, which is related to Irrawaddy dolphins found along the coasts and major rivers of Asia and northern Australia, was formally identified as a new species thanks to genetic research carried out in California, Queensland state researchers said in a statement.
"There are clear differences between the two populations that had not been previously recognized and these were confirmed by the studies on DNA," said Isabel Beasley, a doctoral student at James Cook University’s School of Tropical Environmental Studies and Geography.
Beasley and Peter Arnold from the Museum of Tropical Queensland examined the skulls and external measurements of both species, as well as observations of the dolphins in seven countries.
A separate genetic study was also undertaken by Kelly Robertson from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.
Beasley warned that the dolphins are under threat from humans because they live in shallow coastal waters.
"Unfortunately, because they live in these environments, they are susceptible to many human threats including accidental catch in shark and fishing nets as well as effects of coastal development," Beasley said.
The dolphin’s scientific name is Orcaella heinsohni to honor the work of James Cook University researcher George Heinsohn, who examined dolphin carcasses that were found stranded or caught in shark nets in the 1960s and 1970s. Those dolphins provided data that helped formally identify them as a separate species.