A new species of dolphin has been identified living in the sea off northern Australia according to scientists who have carried out an extensive DNA analysis confirming that the sea mammal was unknown to science.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York and the American Museum of Natural History said that there are now four species of humpback dolphin in the world. One lives in the Atlantic, one in the central and western part of the Indian Ocean, one in the western Indian and Pacific Ocean, and now a new, unnamed species living in the waters off northern Australia.
A study in the journal Molecular Ecology analysed 180 dolphin skulls from around the world and 235 tissue samples analysing both mitochondrial and chromosomal DNA found significant variations between the four dolphin groups that warranted division into four distinct species, said Howard Rosenbaum of the WCS.
"New information about distinct species across the entire range of humpback dolphins will increase the number of recognised species and provides the needed scientific evidence for management decisions aimed at protecting their unique genetic diversity and associated important habitats," Dr Rosenbaum said.
Humpback dolphins grow up to 8 feet long and range in colour from dark grey to pink and white. They generally inhabit estuaries and coastal waters and have distinctive humps in front of their dorsal fins.