DOLPHIN colonies in Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes have been formally recognised as a new species, researchers say.
The dolphins, named Tursiops australis, have a combined population of about 150 and were originally thought to be one of the two existing bottlenose dolphin species.
Monash University PhD researcher Kate Charlton-Robb discovered they were unique by comparing skulls, DNA and physical traits with specimens dating back to the early 1900s.
The new species will commonly be known as the Burrunan dolphin, an Aboriginal name meaning large sea fish of the porpoise kind.
The findings, published in the latest PLoS ONE journal, show that the dolphins of the southern Australian coast differ greatly from other dolphin species.
“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.”
Ms Charlton-Robb said more research was needed to determine whether there were other populations of the Burrunan dolphin in Australia.