A new variety of humpback dolphin has been identified off the coast of Australia, after genetic analysis revealed that the genus has at least four species, instead of the two or three previously believed to exist.
In a study published in the Marine Ecology journal, scientists looked at 180 dolphin skulls and used 235 tissue samples to analyze the genetics of the marine mammals — and found that although the dolphins might look similar, their geographic isolation translated into genetic difference.
"We were surprised," said study co-author Martin Mendez to LiveScience. "Morphologically, these guys are not all that different from other dolphin species, but we were surprised to see that the genetic data came out quite different."
A population of humpback dolphins residing off the northern coast of Australia has been identified as a distinct fourth species, according to Science Daily, which has yet to receive a scientific name.
The other three species are the Atlantic humpback dolphin off of West Africa, and two Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin species that reside in the Indian ocean.
Humpback dolphins are identified by the prominent hump below their dorsal fin and reside in coastal areas of the eastern Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They can grow up to 8 feet long and come in a variety of colors, largely subsisting on mullet and other fish.