Unique species of humpback dolphin discovered in Australian waters
Population aggregation frameworks, genetic data sequences, morphological data and geographical segregation may all sound like phrases from a work of science fiction, but it is these things that have led to the recent discovery of a distinct dolphin species off northern Australia.
The yet-to-be-named species of humpback dolphin was revealed by a research group led by Martin Mendez, who spent years examining skulls and tissue samples from beached dolphins and museum specimens, allowing the team to distinguish the humpback dolphins found across northern Australia from those in South-East Asia.
So what does this mean for Aussie dolphins and their conservation?
Well, humpback dolphins were previously treated as a single, global population. If this Australian humpback dolphin is a separate species then the threats to this species also need to be considered separately.
This is particularly true for coastal development in important habitat for these dolphins in areas such as north-western Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, with dredging and pile-driving resulting in habitat destruction and modification. These dolphin populations may also be more vulnerable than previously thought due to bycatch in commercial fisheries.
These kinds of human activity may have severe consequences for a species of dolphin which has only just been discovered as well as many other kinds of inshore dolphin.
What this discovery really highlights is how much we still have to learn about whales and dolphins that live around our coast.
There is an urgent need for a much better understanding of dolphin populations in Australia so that these animals can be better protected. This is especially true in areas that are undergoing rapid change from coastal development.