New findings by a James Cook University researcher have confirmed that the recently discovered Australian snubfin dolphin is also found in waters off southern Papua New Guinea.

JCU’s Dr Isabel Beasley has been undertaking research on inshore dolphins in the Kikori Delta of southern Papua New Guinea since 2011, with funding from the PNG LNG Community Investment Program and the Australian Marine Mammal Centre.

It was previously thought that only Irrawaddy dolphins occurred in southern Papua New Guinea.

However, new research based on at-sea observations and genetic analysis has confirmed that the Kikori dolphins are a separate population of Australian snubfin dolphins, Orcaella heinsohni.

The snubfin is a small dolphin species previously thought to be restricted to northern Australian coastal waters.

As a result of the discovery, the ExxonMobil PNG-led, PNG LNG Project has announced a new scholarship program, where three students will receive JCU scholarships to study dolphins in Papua New Guinea, with a focus on Australian snubfin dolphins in the Kikori Delta.

The scholarships are called the ‘PNG LNG – PIDU Research Scholarships’, PIDU being the local name for dolphins in the Kikori Delta.

ExxonMobil PNG managing director, Andrew Barry said ExxonMobil PNG was committed to preserving Papua New Guinea’s unique environment and cultural heritage for future generations.

“Investing in the dolphin research complements the PNG LNG Project’s approach to the long-term conservation of the pristine environment in which we operate,” Mr Barry said.

“We are working with James Cook University and the University of Papua New Guinea to enhance the capacity of young Papua New Guineans to care for the very unique biodiversity of this country.”

UPNG has collaborated with the PIDU project since it began in 2011, with three UPNG students undertaking their 4th year research projects based on the study.

UPNG Registrar, Jennifer Popat said “The University of Papua New Guinea is proud to partner with James Cook University in the important marine research project. Without the PNG LNG Community Investment Program’s support for these Honours and Masters scholarships, the scientific knowledge concerning these species of dolphins would remain incomplete.”

The students will conduct projects in the Kikori Delta to further knowledge of this little known species, identify threats to the small remaining population, and work together with the local communities and fishers to develop strategies to mitigate threats, such as accidental bycatch in fisheries.

Dr Beasley said the Kikori Delta of southern PNG is the only location in the Pacific Islands and New Guinea where the Australian snubfin dolphin is currently known to occur.

“Conservation and management efforts are therefore imperative if the species is to survive in the region, where accidental bycatch and habitat degradation are threatening remaining populations throughout their range.”

Applications for the scholarships open on September 1, 2015 and successful candidates will be announced in early December 2015.

Link to images and captions:

For interviews:
Dr Isabel Beasley (JCU) +61 (0) 437921897,
Lorna Hempstead (Manager, Alumni and Community Engagement, JCU) +61 (0) 7 4781 4303
Ting Wu (PNG LNG Community Investment Program) +675 3097192