A new dolphin species – Snubfin Dolphin Orcaella heinsohni

In 2005, Dr Beasley (James Cook University), Dr Peter Arnold (Museum of Tropical Queensland) and Dr Kelly Robertson (Southeast Fisheries Science Centre, USA) discovered a new dolphin species that inhabited the coastal waters of northern Australia (and probably Papua New Guinea), the Australian snubfin dolphin, Orcaellaheinsohni.

This discovery resulted from Dr Beasley’s research on Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) in Southeast Asia over 10 years as part of her PhD with James Cook University.

Australian Collaborations and Projects

Dr Isabel Beasley, Director of the Snubfin Dolphin Conservation Project, began working with Northern Australian Indigenous ranger groups in 2009, through a collaborative project with Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers, Yanyuwa Traditional Owners and James Cook University.

This project was funded by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre and McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust.

Following on from this project, Dr Beasley began dedicated collaborative research and conservation efforts along the Great Barrier Reef and Northern Australia in 2013. This work was conducted as part of a postdoctoral research program with James Cook University, funded by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre.

Collaborative surveys began with Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, and then expanded to Lama Lama Rangers (Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation), Mandubarra Aboriginal Land and Sea Incorporated, Gudjuda Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation, Yirrganydji Indigenous Lands Sea Rangers, and Jabalbina Aboriginal Corporation along the GBR, Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers (Tjungundi Traditional Owners) and Napranum Traditional Owners in the Gulf or Carpentaria, and Dhimuru Aboriginal Corporation, Yirralka Rangers (Laynhapuy Homelands), Larrakia Nation and Kenbi Rangers in Northern Territory.

This project was extremely successful in 2016 when three major inshore dolphin projects were conducted, thanks to funded from the Australian Government (Townsville and Girringun surveys) and SeaWorld Research and Rescue Foundation (GBR surveys):

  • dedicated mark-recapture surveys in the Townsville region,
  • dedicated mark-recapture surveys in Girringun Sea Country
  • distribution surveys along the GBR from Townsville north to Port Douglas

This project also collaborated with Environmental Systems Solutions and Girringun Aboriginal Corporation to develop a user-friendly database for the ranger sighting/survey data to be entered and stored. This component of the project was a great breakthrough, to enable ranger groups to collect and manage their own sighting and survey data.

Dr Beasley also collaborated with the Australian Marine Mammal Centre and AT Design to develop a photo-identification database named PADPIC (PNG Australia Photo-Identification Catalogue), modelled after the Australian Right Whale Photo-Identification Catalogue (ARWPIC). This database will enable field data to be collected and appropriately analysed.

Papua New Guinea Collaborations and Projects

Dr Beasley began research in Papua New Guinea in 2011 with a small grant from the Australian Marine Mammal Centre. She continued research in PNG as part of her postdoctoral research through James Cook University, with funding from Exxon Mobil PNG Ltd and the Australian Marine Mammal Centre. In 2016, Dr Beasley founded a scholarship program to provide PNG students an opportunity to further their marine studies. This program was undertaken with funding from Exxon Mobil PNG Ltd. Dr Beasley founded the PIDU project in 2019, in collaboration with the Piku Biodiversity Network, PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, University Papua New Guinea and the Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority.

International Collaborations and Projects

In 2017, Dr Beasley attend the Regional Workshop on Pacific islands Marine Mammal Areas, organised by the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Environment Program (SPREP).

mportant Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) are defined as discrete portions of habitat, important to marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. IMMAs consist of areas that may merit place-based protection and/or monitoring. ‘Important’ in the context of the IMMA classification refers to any perceivable value, which extends to the marine mammals within the IMMA, to improve the conservation status of those species or populations.

Of the 18 designated IMMA’s, two IMMA’s were designated for Papua New Guinea: The Kikori Delta and Bismarck Sea. This means that these areas are now officially recognised as important for biodiversity and ecosystem health and will be taken into account in future conservation planning.