What is an Australian snubfin dolphin? This strange looking (but exceptionally cute) dolphin was only recognised as being a new species in 2005. It was previously thought to be the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), however, DNA profiles and skull measurements by Queensland and Californian scientists have shown conclusively that the newly-named Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohnii), which has a short stubby dorsal fin and a round melon-like head, is a distinct species.
What does it look like? The snubfin dolphin is highly variable in colour, ranging from creamy coloured to dark brown and every shade in between. It has a rounded forehead with no beak, which is very unlike most other dolphin species in Australia. It has a particularly small dorsal fin, which is the reason for its common name, and a distinct crease around the neck, which is quite mobile. The blowhole on top of the head is set a little to the left. The average length of this animal is about two metres.
Photo: Copyright Kimberley Inshore Dolphin Conservation Project
Where does it live? The Australian snubfin dolphin has been recorded across northern Australia, from WA to Queensland, where it inhabits rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.
What does it eat and how? Australian snubfin dolphins feed on fish, squid and crustaceans. They use a technique known as 'spitting' to catch fish: as the water splashes it diverts the fish in different directions.
Behaviour: This species is found in groups of up to six and sometimes up to 15. Australian snubfin dolphins are not acrobatic dolphins and are known to bow ride, but have been observed leaping from the water.
Breeding and caring for young: The calves are born tail first.
Protecting the Australian snubfin dolphin: Scientists Deb Thiele, Marguerite Tarzia and Indigenous rangers from the Kimberley Land Council and community groups are working together to identify critical habitat for the Australian snubfin dolphin along the Kimberley coast, its genetic status (to see if snubfin dolphins found in the Kimberley are a different species to those found elsewhere in Australia) and conservation status. They are doing boat surveys in Roebuck Bay at Broome to find out where the Australian snubfin dolphin lives, how it behaves and what it eats. They are also collecting information on human activities that may be affecting the dolphins and taking photos so they can identify individual animals, as every dolphin has a different fin. Determining the status of the Australian snubfin dolphin along the Kimberley coast is important so we can develop effective conservation efforts.
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