Species of dolphin in northern Australian waters said new to science

Oct. 29, 2013 at 4:51 PM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- A type of humpback dolphin inhabiting the waters off northern Australia is a species new to science, wildlife experts say.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History and numerous other groups took part in a study of humpback dolphins, named for a peculiar hump just below the dorsal fin.

Examining the evolutionary history of this family of marine mammals found around the world using both physical features and genetic data, the researchers found that while the Atlantic humpback dolphin is a recognized species, their work suggests the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin should be split into three species, one of which is completely new to science.

The Atlantic humpback dolphin occurs in the eastern Atlantic off West Africa; the three species of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin include Sousa plumbea, from the central to the western Indian Ocean; Sousa chinensis, which inhabits the eastern Indian and western Pacific Oceans; and the fourth Sousa species found off northern Australia, yet to be named.

"Based on the findings of our combined morphological and genetic analyses, we can suggest that the humpback dolphin genus includes at least four member species," researcher Martin Mendez said in a Wildlife Conservation Society release Tuesday.

"This discovery helps our understanding of the evolutionary history of this group and informs conservation policies to help safeguard each of the species."

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