Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have identified a previously unknown species of humpback dolphin living off the coast of Australia. By conducting genetic testing on hundreds of tissue samples, and studying hundreds of skulls, they concluded that enough genetic variation exists to distinguish a new, as yet unnamed species.
There has long been controversy over the number of species of humpback dolphin and until now they’ve been divided into two groups – one in the Atlantic Ocean and one found in other parts of the world. However, this research proves that the population of humpback dolphins is actually composed of four distinct species.
In addition to the newly discovered species, one of the current groups should be divided into two. The species occupy the eastern Atlantic Ocean off West Africa (Atlantic humpback dolphin), the central and western Indian Ocean (Sousa plumbea), the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans (Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin), and the waters off the coast of northern Australia (unnamed species).
Given that humpback dolphins are considered threatened in some parts of the world, this discovery is a critical step in efforts to conserve the dwindling numbers of humpback dolphins around the world.