Newly Discovered Dolphins

Like many biology enthusiasts, I’ve  been happily following BBC’s Planet Earth II as they explore different parts of our world. My current favorite episode is Jungles– I don’t think I’ve been that in-awe for a quite a while.

My husband’s favorite part of the episode was, unsurprisingly, when a jaguar killed a caiman. One of the things that caught my attention most, was the segment on a new species of river dolphin that lives in the Amazon flooded jungle of Brazil.

This proposed new species of river dolphin is the first discovery in nearly 100 years. In 2014, using DNA and morphological characteristics, a team of scientists published an article in PLOS ONE detailing the evidence for this being a separate species from its Amazonian river dolphin sisters- Inia araguaiaensis.

Planet Earth’s segment on the river dolphins shows them swimming in the murky river waters that flood the Araguaian basin jungle, leaving solid ground up to 30 feet below the surface. Due to the muddiness of the water, these dolphins have become nearly blind over the estimated 2 million years of separation. Like salt-water dolphins, these Brazilian river dolphins use sonar to communicate and “see” in the muddy water, allowing the Planet Earth team to use microphones to locate them in the jungle.

Like many Amazonian animals, and most species of river dolphins, this species is already threatened at the time of its discovery. In 2006, the Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) was declared functionally extinct when not one individual could be located in the wild. Does this new species face the same fate? Hopefully with increased conservation efforts and programs like Planet Earth bringing attention to the species, the Araguaian river dolphin will survive for generations.

 

Follow BBC Earth on twitter: @BBCEarth

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