Researchers have identified a previously unknown species of humpback dolphin living off the coast of Australia. This is exciting in itself, but could also be an important first step in efforts to conserve the dwindling numbers of dolphins.
As Care2 reported last year, when it comes to the Endangered Species List, some animals stand out as celebrities: polar bears, giant pandas, rhinos and snow leopards, for example. But sadly, the list is so extensive that there are many species you may never have suspected are endangered.
The dolphin is one of those species.
Researchers have identified four species in the humpback genus: the Atlantic humpback dolphin, found in waters off West Africa; the Indo-Pacific humpback, whose habitat ranges from the central to western Indian Ocean; another species of Indo-Pacific humpback, which inhabits the eastern Indian and western Pacific Oceans; and this fourth, previously unknown, Australian species.
Will this new discovery save all these dolphins from extinction? That is indeed the hope.
The humpback dolphin is named for an unusual hump just below its dorsal fin.
The researchers say the discovery will improve decision-making about conservation policies to protect the dolphins’ genetic diversity and their habitats.
Discovery of the Australian humpback dolphin is announced in the latest issue of Molecular Biology.
An international team, including researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Museum of Natural History, analyzed samples from humpback dolphins found from the eastern Atlantic to the western Pacific oceans, looking for significant variations in DNA.
The team also compared physical features from 180 humpback dolphin skulls found on beaches in Atlantic and Pacific regions or from museum collections and concluded that this is indeed a new, genetically distinct species.
The newly identified species grows to 2.5 meters in length and ranges from dark gray to pink or white in color.
From The Telegraph:
The yet-to-be-named species has been identified through a decade-long scientific collaboration that involved genetic mapping and the physical examination of hundreds of specimens. The process, which has led to what scientists call a ‘split,’ has revealed that rather than just two species of humpback dolphins in the world there are in fact at least four.
Guido Parra, who co-authored the report that revealed the dolphin to the world, has called for the urgent re-evaluation of the species’ conservation status, and told the Telegraph he has serious concerns for its long-term survival.
Parra explained even when there was believed to be only one species of humpback dolphin in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, that species was considered near threatened. Now, with the reclassification in to four species, Parra believes that they should be reclassified as highly vulnerable, or even endangered.
One major threat to the dolphin off the coast of Australia is habitat degradation due to coastal development and mining and resource exploitation, including shipping associated with mining developments.
According to Scientific American, there are six coal export-related development or expansion proposals under assessment by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. It seems that Australia’s coal industry wants to build a series of ports adjacent to the reef to expedite the exportation of their toxic product.
Even worse, Australian local media is reporting that members of the body charged with protecting the Great Barrier Reef, one of the habitats in which the dolphin is found, have links to mining and resource companies and could benefit from port developments.
Australian environment minister Greg Hunt ordered an inquiry into the conflict of interest allegations yesterday. Hopefully, this will lead to restraining orders on those coal companies, instead of yet another senseless destruction of nature by mankind.
Photo Credit: Flickr