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Scientific Classification
Orcaella heinsohni

Kingdom

Animalia

Phylum

Chordata

Class

Mammalia

Order

Cetacea

Family

Delphinidae

Genus

Orcaella

Species

O. heinsohni

 

Australian snubfin dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) are dolphins found off the northern coasts of Australia. It closely resembles the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and was not described as a separate species until 2005. The Australian snubfin has 3 colours on its skin, while the Irrawaddy dolphin only has 2. The skull and the fins also show minor differences between the two species.

This species was described as separate from O. brevirostris only as recently as 2005. The available evidence supports the reasoning that there are less than 10,000 mature individuals and therefore the species meets the C criterion for Vulnerable in terms of population size. However, data are lacking to substantiate a continuing decline (C2). Similarly, no studies of population structure have been carried out so it is uncertain if either of the C2a subcriteria is met (i.e., whether no subpopulation is larger than 1000 mature, or all mature individuals are in a single subpopulation). Although the species could be listed as Data Deficient, Near Threatened is more appropriate given its limited range, low densities in surveyed areas, and its continuing vulnerability to bycatch. Rigorous, more extensive surveys are needed to support a reassessment of the species; it may then be found to qualify for listing as Vulnerable or possibly even Endangered.

Orcaella heinsohni1

The dolphin in its habitat

In the Pacific Ocean off Townsville, about 200 individual snubfin dolphins were found. The range of the species is expected to extend to Papua New Guinea; that is, O. heinsohni is endemic to the northern half of the Sahul Shelf, but the majority live in Australian waters. They are not thought to be common, and are being given a high conservation priority. Its IUCN classification of "data deficient" refers to this species and the Irrawaddy dolphin combined. Threats include drowning in fishery and antishark nets; while some hunting by indigenous people probably occurs (as evidenced by the 1948 specimen), this is likely to be insignificant compared to the threat posed by drowning.

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