September 15, 2011
Researchers Announce Discovery Of New Dolphin Species
A new species of dolphin native to Australia has been discovered off the coast of Port Phillip and the Gippsland Lakes by Monash University researchers, BBC News reports.The rare dolphins were formally recognized as a unique species after studies showed they are different to every other dolphin in the world. The dolphins, numbering at about 150, were originally believed to be one of two recognized bottlenose species.
But by Thursday, they realized they were in fact unique and unlike any other species found in the world. Detailed DNA studies and an analysis of skulls in museums showed the dolphins are in fact a new species, formally classified as Tursiops australis.
Revealing the findings in the journal PLoS One, Monash University´s PhD researcher Kate Charlton-Robb said that through DNA evidence, skull measurements and other physical traits found in specimens dating back to the early 1900s, they are in fact new species.
The new species will be commonly known as the Burrunan dolphin, an aboriginal name meaning “large sea fish of the porpoise kind.”
“This is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have only been three new dolphin species formally described and recognized since the late 1800s,” said Charlton-Robb. “What makes this even more exciting is this dolphin species has been living right under our noses, with only two known resident populations living in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria,” she added.
Previous research had shown that the DNA found in the dolphins differed from the bottlenose dolphins: Tursiops truncatus and Tursiops aduncus. But, in accordance with the recommendations from the Workshop on Cetacean Systematics and the Unified Species Concept, the use of the molecular evidence alone was inadequate for describing a new species, and deemed more evidence was needed. That´s where Charlton-Robb and her colleagues came in.
With the help of analysis of dolphin skulls from Museum Victoria, the researchers were able to find the evidence needed to make the call for a new species recognition.
They were able to describe the macro-morphological, coloration and cranial characters of the dolphins, assess the available new genetic data, and conclude that multiple lines of evidence clearly indicate a new species.
The Museum´s Senior Curator of Mammals said the discovery was a great example of what biodiversity research can find. “Through the careful application of emerging technologies to museum specimens, researchers are revealing that our biological heritage is far more diverse than we realize,” said the curator.
The recognition of T. australis as a new species is particularly important given the dolphin remains endemic to a geographically small region of southern Australia, where only “two small populations exist,” and “within close proximity to major urban and agricultural” areas, giving them a “high conservation value” and making them susceptible to numerous threats, the researchers argue.
In fact, now that it is recognized as a new species it may immediately qualify under Australia´s criteria for endangered animals, they said.
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