Article and Photo by Alex Brown, Doctoral candidate at Murdoch University in Western Australia.
The snubfin dolphin appears to smile from its smooth, round head, like an old friend who’s lost his hair but still has an abundance of happiness to share.
Of course, that’s reading a lot from the unusual – for a dolphin – looks of the snubfin. It’s a marine mammal and smiling isn’t one of its tricks. That’s just the way it is, but those looks do make them endearing to humans.
The snubfin is found only in Australia’s tropical north and probably in the southern areas of the island of New Guinea and was only recognised as a separate species in 2005. Before that everyone thought it was a type of river dolphin found in south-east Asia.
Little is known about them.
Alex Brown, a a doctoral candidate at Murdoch University in Western Australia, says the snubfin’s shy behaviour, coupled with the inaccessibility of much of their habitat, makes them difficult to study.
He’s working on estimating the population size now after several trips to look at different groups of the dolphins along the coast in the north west.
The general scientific thinking is that there are well below 10,000 mature snubfin dolphins.
By numbers alone, this would place them in a vulnerable classification.