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Researchers excited over possible new dolphin -

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Researchers excited over possible new dolphin species

The World Today - Friday, 1 August , 2008 12:40:00

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: Scientists off the coast of Western Australia say they've discovered a new species of

It's known as the Snubfin dolphin and it's thought to be a relative of the Irrawaddy, a dolphin in
danger of extinction in parts of Asia.

The scientists say they'll know for sure whether it is a new species when the results of DNA tests
are received, but in the meantime they've released some of the rarely heard sounds of the Snubfin

(Sound of a dolphin)

Our reporter Simon Santow has been speaking to one of the expeditioners, Dr Tammie Matson from
conservation group WWF.

TAMMIE MATSON: Well, it was incredibly exciting because we saw quite a lot of Australia's unique
Snubfin dolphin, and at one stage actually we had about six of them going around the boat and so
really incredible to see that. This is Australia's only endemic dolphin and only discovered just a
few years ago.

SIMON SANTOW: So it is not the first time that the Snubfin dolphin have been seen but what makes
these ones a little bit different.

TAMMIE MATSON: The ones from the Kimberley are quite amazing. I mean, from what we have seen so
far, there is so little known about this dolphin that is probably quite important to say from the

Because the species was only discovered three years ago and there has only been some genetics work
done on the Queensland population, this is a species that is only thought to be found in northern
Australia and nowhere else in the world.

That work that is being done now in the Kimberley; in the Northern Territory as well is totally
going to show that we may even have a separate sub-species or even another species of dolphin. But
you know, being on the boat for the last couple of days, the scientists were there taking genetic
samples of Snubfin dolphins there. So time will tell if that really is the case; so we are very
excited about the prospect.

SIMON SANTOW: And how far off the coast dolphins did you find these dolphins?

TAMMIE MATSON: Snubfin dolphins appear to just like inshore coastal areas; so the Queensland
populations don't go really more than 10 kilometres off shore. So of course, that puts them into
contact with fishermen and tourists on boats. That is something that we are quite concerned about
because this is quite an area of quite intensive human activity.

SIMON SANTOW: And the ones off the Kimberley coast, are they need areas of large population or
fishing areas?

TAMMIE MATSON: Absolutely, the ones that we were looking at were in Roebuck Bay and that is just
right off the coast of Broome and that area is really developing very, very fast and yet, you know,
it is one of the last relatively intact places in terms of ecosystems in Australia.

The Kimberley region itself is one of the last places in Australia where there hasn't been mammal
extinctions yet.

SIMON SANTOW: And when you speak to the people of Broome, are they familiar with these dolphins? Do
they just speak as if these dolphins have been there for as long as they know?

TAMMIE MATSON: I think a lot of people locally do know that they exist but they probably don't know
just how special they are. They are quite unusual to look at as well; they don't look like a normal
dolphin. They look kind of more like a porpoise. They have got quite a round flat nose. They don't
have the long nose like the bottle nose and they are quite shy and they are kind of elusive
actually so you don't see them all the time.

They tend to, when they come out of the water, they don't usually show much of their head; so they
are one of Australia's shyest dolphins and that is probably why it took so long for them to be

SIMON SANTOW: I understand that the team up there has recorded some footage of the dolphin spitting
into the water. Can you tell me about that technique? What is that used for?

TAMMIE MATSON: Well, Snubfin dolphins use this to hurt fish so that they can actually catch them
and eat them; so that was amazing to see that. So it is an incredible behaviour and it is amazing
to see these dolphins up close anyway; so you can imagine how excited all of us were to be on the
boat and to actually be seeing them up close to the boat. But then to see those natural behaviours
and see them so comfortable with us nearby was just fantastic.

SIMON SANTOW: Tammie Matson, have you got any idea of the numbers of these dolphins at the moment
in that particular area of the Kimberley coast?

TAMMIE MATSON: We have absolutely no idea what is going on with this species yet.; it is such early
days. It is so exciting to have this research going on because it is going to uncover that baseline
ecological data that we need to conserve the species. So it is just too early to say.

But they probably are quite rare and if we don't make sure that we reduce all the potential human
impacts to them at this stage then we could see them going the way of for example the Irrawaddy
dolphin in Asia which is now critically endangered and very much on the path to extinction.

ELEANOR HALL: WWF's Dr Tammie Matson speaking to our reporter, Simon Santow.