A new species of river dolphin has been discovered in Brazil. That's the good news. The bad news is that it already runs the risk of extinction, according to a study published this week in PLOS ONE.
The new species is the first to be discovered since 1918, the authors noted.
Named the Inia araguaiaensis, the marine mammal was discovered in the Araguaia River basin, where it is believed only 1,000 live of them live. Researchers say these dolphins separated from river dolphins in the Amazon more than 2 million years ago due to a “shift in landscape.”
“The divergence we observed is larger than the divergences observed between other dolphin species,” lead author Dr. Thomas Hrbek of the Federal University of Amazonas said, according to the BBC.
Most notably, the new species only has 24 teeth per jaw, instead of the usual 25 or 29 that other river dolphins in Brazil have.
“It was something that was very unexpected, it is an area where people see them all the time, they are a large mammal, the thing is nobody really looked. It is very exciting,” Dr. Hrbek said.
The scientists analyzed DNA sample from dozens of dolphins in the Amazon and Araguaia rivers and concluded that this dolphin was a new species.
The researchers are concerned, however, of the species’ future.
“Its future is pretty bleak,” Hrbek told the New Scientist. “The Araguia-Tocantins basin suffers huge human disturbance and there are probably less than 1,000 I. araguaiaensis in existence.”
River dolphins in general have been quickly disappearing, notes the World Wildlife Fund. While river basins are home to the dolphins, 15 percent of the human population can also be found near them, meaning human interaction is high.
“Dam-building, entanglement in fishing nets, boat traffic, and pollution have led to drastic declines in dolphin populations over the last several decades,” the WWF notes on their website.
Sources: World Wildlife Fund, BBC, The New Scientist