Snubfin dolphins facts
Shallow coastal waters in the tropical and subtropical zones of Australia, and possibly some parts of New Guinea. In Australia, they occur from just south of Broome, Western Australia, north and east to the Brisbane River, Queensland.
IUCN Red List: Near Threatened; CITES: Most Endangered
Did you know?
The Australian snubfin was previously thought to be an Irrawaddy dolphin and was described in Australia’s northern waters in 2005.
An indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the Australian snubfin dolphins based on best available knowledge, October 2013.
Source: Coordinated research framework to assess the national conservation status of Australian snubfin dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) and other tropical inshore dolphins CC BY 4.0 / Department of the Environment
What makes the snubfin unique?
Snubfin dolphins have patchy distribution in the tropical waters of northern Australia from the Kimberley, in the west, across the Top End and as far south as the Gladstone region in Queensland. There may also be small populations in coastal Papua New Guinea. We now realise that snubfin dolphins live in small populations of between 50-100 individuals, have relatively small home ranges and exhibit low levels of gene flow between populations. This makes them vulnerable to human-caused threats, including habitat degradation by coastal development, injury or mortality by gillnetting and vessel strike.
Unlike other dolphins, the snubfin is quite shy. The species forms very tight-knit social groups and lives in coastal areas, feeding in the shallow waters of estuaries and embayments where tidal creeks and rivers supply rich food sources.
The snubfin dolphin is thought to feed on a range of fish, squid and crustaceans. In Roebuck Bay, they exhibit a unique feeding behaviour, where individuals spit jets of water ahead of its prey, presumably to disorientate it. Snubfins dolphins are extremely social and can become so engrossed in one another when playing or feeding that they are oblivious to oncoming boats, posing a serious threat.
Like many coastal dolphins around the world, these dolphins are threatened by coastal development, which is destructive to its habitat, and accidental entanglement in fishing gear.
WWF-Australia is working to ensure a better understanding of snubfin dolphin distribution and critical habitats, what this species eats and where it breeds, and the threats it faces. This will enable us to improve coastal dolphin conservation in northern Australia.