The rare Australian humpback dolphin needs urgent protection to be saved from extinction, an Australian study released on Wednesday said.
In the study, researchers from Flinders University discovered new information about the population genetics of the Sousa sahulensis, commonly known as the humpback dolphin.
The study concluded that the deaths of even a few mature individuals per year could be detrimental for the viability of humpback dolphin populations.
"Our results show that Australian humpback dolphin populations along the east coast of Queensland are characterized by low levels of genetic diversity, limited gene flow, and small effective population size," lead author Guido Parra said in a media release on Wednesday.
"Conservation efforts should focus on promoting connectivity among local populations and reducing direct causes of human related mortality."
Scientists studied the Australian humpback dolphin, which is endemic to northern Australia and southern New Guinea, for 17 years before coming to the conclusion that it was a separate species within the Sousa family.
They are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species.
Due to the small population of the dolphin, Parra and a team of researchers spent 10 years collecting genetic samples.
Co-author Daniele Cagnazzi said the results should "raise important conservation concerns and emphasise the vulnerability of this species to random natural and human disturbances."
"Understanding the population genetics of threatened species is imperative for the development of appropriate conservation measures because some may be more vulnerable to natural and human disturbances than others depending on their genetic diversity and past demographic history," Cagnazzi said.