Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 15th, 2011
Researchers have determined that dolphins found in southeastern Australia represent a previously unknown species.
Around 150 of the dolphins live around the Melbourne area and had until now been assumed to be one of the known bottlenose dolphins.
But detailed DNA studies and analysis of skulls in museums showed the two populations are in fact a new species.
The new classification as Tursiops australis is described in PLoS One.
The common name of Burrunan dolphins derives from the Aboriginal Australian for “large sea fish of the porpoise kind”.
Previous research had shown that the DNA found in the dolphins differed from that of the known bottlenose speciesTursiops truncatus and Tursiops aduncus.
But in order to define a new species, more evidence is needed. Kate Charlton-Robb of Monash University in Melbourne and her colleagues studied dolphin skulls found in a number of museums, as well as more detailed analysis of DNA, to show that T. australis is clearly a different animal.
“This is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have only been three new dolphin species formally described and recognised since the late 1800s,” Ms Charlton-Robb said. “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 state.”
More, see here.
Update: Chad Arment passes along that this may be locally called the Burrunan.