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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • Tursiops aduncus;
  • osteology;
  • sympatry

Abstract

Although there has been extensive research on bottlenose dolphins (genus Tursiops), much controversy over the classification within this genus still exists. Even though many morphological variants occur, the prevailing view is for a single species, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821). To evaluate this view, two sympatric forms of bottlenose dolphins inhabiting Chinese waters were examined using multivariate statistical analyses of osteological data for two meristic and 18 cranial morphometric characters from 71 specimens. Cluster and principal components analyses revealed clear osteological separation of the two forms. Furthermore, the distributions of the total number of vertebrae and several proportions of cranial characters were non-overlapping between the two forms. These results provided strong evidence that the two sympatric forms of Tursiops in Chinese waters are isolated reproductively and do not support the current view of a monotypic genus. Classification functions of a discriminant analysis and a key of several characters were developed to help researchers identify unassigned specimens. Provisional names (T. truncatus and T. aduncus) were suggested, but a formal taxonomic revision of this genus is still required. However, regardless of the nomenclature, immediate amendments to all present wildlife conservation legislation are strongly urged.