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New dolphin species spotted swimming off Australian coast

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A newly discovered species of humpback dolphin has been seen swimming off the northern Australia coast, an international team of scientists reported this week.

All humpback dolphins have a characteristic hump just below the dorsal fin, but there are several distinct species in this family of marine mammals, the scientists found.

While the Atlantic humpback dolphin has been recognized as a species, the latest research offers the best evidence yet that the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin should be split into three species, including one that is new to science. The findings were published on Tuesday in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Researchers examined the humpback dolphin family's evolutionary history using both physical features and genetic data, the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement about the discovery.

The study's authors suggest there are at least four species in the humpback dolphin family: the Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuzii) in the eastern Atlantic off western Africa; the Indo-Pacific (Sousa plumbea) in the central to western Indian Ocean; a second Indo-Pacific species (Sousa chinensis) in the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, and a fourth species found off northern Australia that has yet to acquire a scientific name.

The team examined 180 skulls and collected 235 tissue samples from humpback dolphins from the eastern Atlantic to the western Pacific, analyzing DNA for variations.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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