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River dolphin species emerges in Brazil rainforest

Inia araguaiaensis

• Discovered in the Araguaia River Basin in central Brazil, the new species of river dolphins, or botos, were isolated from other botos in the adjacent Amazon Basin to the west by a series of rapids and a small canal.

• The DNA of the Araguaian river dolphins is sufficiently different from that of other botos to warrant designation as a new species.

• The degree of difference suggests that the Araguaian boto most probably separated from other dolphin species more than 2 million years ago.

• The newly proposed species marks the first discovery of a true river dolphin since 1918, when researchers identified Lipotes vexillifer, the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji, in China.

— National Geographic

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
 

SAO PAULO — Scientists have made the first discovery in 100 years of a new river dolphin species in the waters of the Araguaia river in Brazil's vast Amazon rainforest.

The discovery of the “Inia araguaiaensis” was officially announced in a study posted online by the Plos One scientific journal.

The study's lead author, biologist Tomas Hrbek of the Federal University of Amazonas in the city of Manaus, said the new species is the third ever found in the Amazon region.

“It was an unexpected discovery that shows just how incipient our knowledge is of the region's biodiversity,” Hrbek said by telephone.

“River dolphins are among the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates, so discovering a new species is something that is very rare and exciting.”

He said that “people always saw them in the river, but no one ever took a close-up look at them.”

Hrbek added that scientists concluded the large dolphin was a new species by analyzing and comparing DNA samples of several types of dolphins from the Amazon and Araguaia river basins.

“The Araguaia dolphin is very similar to its Amazon river cousin although somewhat smaller and with fewer teeth,” he said.

There are about 1,000 “Inia araguaiaensis” dolphins living in the 1,630-mile-long river.

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