A scientist studying a group of ‘common’ dolphins was celebrating today after discovering she had identified an entirely new species.
Experts had always believed the mammals, which swim off the coast of Victoria, Australia, were one of the two recognised bottlenose dolphin species
But Kate Charlton-Robb, a PhD researcher at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences, found the inquisitive and playful dolphins differed greatly from any other species worldwide.
Biologist Kate found dolphins to be unique, comparing skulls, external characteristics and a number of DNA regions from the current day population as well as specimens dating back to the early 1900s.
Ms Charlton-Robb, whose findings have been published in the PLoS ONE Journal, has formally named the species ‘Tursiops australis’.
But they will go by the common name ”Burrunan” – an aboriginal phrase meaning ‘large sea fish of the porpoise kind’.
The delighted scientist said: ”This is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have only been three new dolphin species formally described and recognised since the late 1800s.
”We know these unique dolphins are restricted to a very small region of the world, in addition the resident populations are very small with only approximately 100 dolphins in Port Phillip Bay and 50 in the Gippsland Lakes.
”This study highlights the importance of taking a more holistic approach of using multiple analyses, rather than looking in isolation of one scientific methodology.
”Even though we have progressed a long way in science, this study shows there are still new and exciting discoveries to be made.”
Charlton-Robb’s research relied heavily on the analysis of dolphin skulls collected and maintained by museums over the last century including the holdings at Museum Victoria.
The museum’s senior curator of mammals Dr Rowe said: ”Ms Charlton-Robb’s discovery is an exciting example of a recent trend in biodiversity research across Victoria and Australia.
”Through the careful application of emerging technologies to museum specimens, researchers are revealing that our biological heritage is far more diverse than we realise.”