Characterizing a new animal species can be a tricky process, but in dolphins it can be especially difficult. Now, scientists in Melbourne, Australia have managed to formally classify what will be just the fourth formal description of a new dolphin species in over 100 years.

The new species, classified as Tursiops australis (pictured up top), is endemic to a small geographic region of southern and south-eastern Australia, and will likely qualify for immediate recognition under Australia's criteria for endangered animals.


According to Monash University biologist Kate Charlton-Robb, who led the team that classified T. australis, only three new dolphin species have been described and formally recognized since the late 1800s, making her team's discovery a significant one.

But what makes it even more exciting, Charlton-Robb says, "is this dolphin species has been living right under our noses, with only two known resident populations living [near Melbourne]."

Charlton-Robb's team conducted intensive DNA screening and morphological analyses of dolphin skulls to show unequivocally that T. australis is, in fact, a new species. The team's analyses are published in the latest issue of PLoS ONE.


The researchers say their findings call attention to the demand for more thorough assessments of divergence in the area's dolphin population as a whole, which, despite living in a well populated urban environment and having been the subject of significant research efforts, has managed to elude thorough taxonomic investigations.

Images via PLoS ONE