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Australian humpback dolphin

Sousa sahulensis

Despite only being recognised as distinct in 2014, the species is already classified as ‘Vulnerable.’

This is a very a worrying indicator of the level of threat facing them.

Humpbacked dolphin silhouette
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 2.8m 2.6m 1.0m
Maximum weight 280kg Unknown Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Vulnerable

What do Australian humpback dolphins look like?

Unlike other ‘humpback’ dolphins (Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific), and contrary to their name, the Australian humpback dolphin doesn’t have a distinct hump at all. They are slate-grey in colour and relatively slender, with a long cylindrical beak.

What’s life like for an Australian humpback dolphin?

Pretty independent. Although larger groups have been seen, Australian humpback dolphins tend to prefer to hang out with just one or two others at a time. As with some other species of dolphin, they are known to have a fission-fusion society, meaning they have intense yet short bursts of socialising with particular individuals before moving on to hang out with others.  Obviously this is not the case for mother and calf pairs who are known to stick together for up to four years.

What do Australian humpback dolphins eat?

Australian humpback dolphins are opportunistic un-fussy feeders who will happily munch on a variety of fish. Some individuals have been seen chasing prey in shallow waters and others have even been seen to engage in ‘strand-feeding’ – where they chase prey out of the water and onto mud-flats, deliberately stranding themselves in the process. A risky but rewarding strategy.

Where do Australian humpback dolphins live?

The clue is in their name. As both their common and Latin names suggest they live in coastal and estuarine waters around the northern coast of Australia, and are also found further north to the southern waters of the island of New Guinea, or more correctly, along the Sahul shelf. Although some individuals have been seen in deeper waters, Australian humpback dolphins usually prefer to stay within a range of about 20km off shore.

At risk in their home waters

Given their preference for nearshore waters, Australian humpback dolphins are at increased risk of the effects of habitat degradation and poor water quality. They are also exposed to pollution, which is amplified up the food chain, and may make them more susceptible to disease.

Australian humpback dolphin

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Distribution map

Australian humpback dolphin distribution map

Australian humpback dolphins need your help

The main threats...

  • Entanglement in fishing gear – living so close to shore Australian humpback dolphins come into contact with a variety of fisheries on a daily basis, specifically pair trawlers.

  • Pollution - the areas where they live tend to be close to shore so are susceptible to human activities that can result in pollution and habitat degradation.

You can help save Australian humpback dolphins...

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Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin © Mike Bossley/WDC


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