It is certainly not Bigfoot, but this new addition to the cetacean family is undoubtedly 8 feet long. The newly christened cape wearing dolphin is a member of the humpback family. This category of dolphins is known so because of the hump below their dorsal fin. They generally inhabit the river deltas, estuaries and coastal waters mostly in the pacific, Indian and east- Atlantic oceans. Earlier these humpbacks were classified into 3 different species. One belonging to the indo-pacific region and known as the Sousa chinensis in the scientific communities but more commonly referred to as the Chinese white dolphin, the second one inhabiting the Atlantic areas and known as Sousa teuszii in the scientific community while the third one was the species found in the Indian ocean and known as S. plumbea. It was not until last year that Rosenbaum followed by a keen group of marine life researchers found out that the humpback dolphins found off the coasts of Australia are quite distinct from the three other species. Their findings were mostly based on genetic evidence and other physiological features that distinguished this population from the three others. This particular species had always been overlooked due to lack of information.
Finally after years of research it has been shown that S. sahulensis do have a very distinct skeletal and cartilage structure that commands them to be declared as a separate specie. The most distinguishing feature is the two toned skin. A darker tone runs from around its eyes and sweeps across the sides giving an impression of a large cape. This two tone pattern is unprecedented in its other humpback cousins. Rosenbaum published the findings in the journal of Molecular Biology that although these dolphins did not have any special ecological requirements or characteristics they differed from their cousins in their phylogeny. They are practically indistinguishable from the other three species by their behavioral patterns. They tend to live above the underwater Sahul Shelf which inspires the nomenclature. This species is hence known as Sousa sahulensis. They are found in schools between the stretches of Australia and New Guinea.
The international union for conservation of nature and natural resources has its own list of endangered animals. But due to its late categorization S. sahulensis has not yet be classified under any of the pre – designated groups. Although S. Teuszii is categorized as vulnerable and S. chinensis is categorized as threatened, S. sahulensis has not yet found a place among any of these categories this far. This kind of categorization requires thorough population density measurements, tabulation of habitat endangerment, threats from other sources and studies on mating and reproduction. But Rosenbaum seems to be utterly optimistic about this new species, according to Rosenbaum, “The discovery of the new species will open doors for studies of new habitats and required conservation efforts that might be required to preserve this creature.”
But recognition of a new species of dolphins also demands a need to formulate conservation plans and strategies. There needs to be proper action plans for the optimal protection of this newly discovered species from environmental and man-made threats. In a statement from WCS Rosenbaum stated, “These humpback dolphins are under constant threats from the fishing activities that perturb their food sources and living habitat. Efforts should be taken to protect these humpbacks; their habitats should be conserved since that is the key element to their survival.”
Discovery of a new species of cetacean is indeed a stirring news piece in the Marine Biology community but it also compels one to think about our ignorance regarding the life that is out there. The simple discovery of one missing species can completely alter the phylogenetic tree. This one discovery serves as a proof that there might be hundreds of undiscovered creatures living out there that hold the potential to change our perception of this world and evolution. One simple discovery may kick back the beginning of life by at least a million years. This discovery will definitely lead to some detailed research regarding their physiology, behavioral patterns, ecology and evolution.