Saturday, March 15, 2008

Newly discovered rare dolphin may now face extinction

ONLY three years after being found off the coast of Australia, environmentalists fear the rare snubfin dolphin could be facing extinction.

Snubfin dolphins are thought to be the only new dolphin species to be discovered in more than two decades. "These little snubfins are unusual in that they live in small family groups ... they don't do any kinds of ocean voyage (and) they live in shallow waters close to land," said research scientist Carol Palmer. Ms Palmer is heading a $50,000 project launched yesterday to gather data on the "pretty ugly" mammals in the waters around Darwin Harbour in the Northern Territory.

"We don't know (how many there are). That's the baseline for the research. We have to get a handle on how many animals are here and then work out how to monitor the population," Ms Palmer said. Discovered in 2005 near Townsville, the snubfin was found to be distinct from its Asian cousins following genetic testing, and subsequently declared Australia's only native dolphin. It has a slow reproductive rate and spends years raising its young.

WWF-Australia has since listed the snubfin as one of its flagship species for priority conservation and has established a partnership with ING Direct to help fund the project in Darwin.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"