Researchers split a branch of the dolphin family tree and define a new species
Just off Australia’s northern coast, a newly discovered dolphin species zips and splashes through the blue water. The cetacean is a type of humpback dolphin, named for the conspicuous bump under its dorsal fin. Though scientists have spotted the playful mammals before, they didn’t know the Australian dolphins were their own distinct species.
Using DNA sequencing and careful comparisons of dolphin skulls, researchers confirmed that jetting through the Indian and Pacific oceans are three separate species of humpback dolphins, including the new, so far unnamed, group in Australia. Scientists had previously defined a fourth species that lives in the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists say that the new classification, reported October 29 in Molecular Ecology, will help protect the dolphins by allowing the Australian population to have its own conservation status.
M. Mendez et al. Integrating multiple lines of evidence to better understand the evolutionary divergence of humpback dolphins along their entire distribution range: a new dolphin species in Australian waters? Molecular Ecology. October 29 , 2013. doi: 10.1111/mec.12535.
M. Rosen. Dolphins name themselves with a whistle. Science News Online. July 22, 2013.