Dolphins found in south-eastern Australia are unlike any other species, researchers have discovered.
Colonies of around 150 dolphins living around Melbourne, in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes, were until now thought to be bottlenose dolphins.
But, after detailed DNA analysis of skulls in museums that dated back to the early 1900s, a PhD researcher at Monash University revealed on Thursday they are an entirely new species.
Publishing her findings in the PLoS One journal, Kate Charlton-Robb named the new classification as Tursiops australis.
This is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have only been three new dolphin species formally described and recognized since the late 1800s.
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 state.
The Australian Associated Press said the new species would commonly be known as the burrunan dolphin, an Aboriginal name meaning “large sea fish of the porpoise kind”.
While researchers already knew the DNA of these dolphin colonies was not the same as the two known bottlenose species – Tursiops truncatus and Tursiops aduncus – more evidence was needed to define a new species.
And now that the small number of Tursiops australis are recognized as a new species, Charlton-Robb says they may be eligible to be listed as endangered.
(Read more on GlobalPost: Eel-a-saurus: scientists hail new species a "living fossil")