Researchers have discovered a new dolphin species, a river dolphin in Brazil of which scientists believe there are only 1,000 in existence.
River dolphins are some of the rarest species on the planet. Researchers told BBC News this particular species of river dolphins
is believed to migrate in the Araguaia river basin of Brazil. Scientists say this is first new species, named Inia araguaiaensis, of river dolphins found since World War I.
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shows that the new dolphins appear to be related to another river dolphin species, the Amazonian, but believe the two were separated more than 2 million years ago.
Scientists believe the new species has enough genetic differences from the Amazonian and the Bolivian river dolphins that they do not interbreed and represents a distinctly separate species.
"It is very similar to the other ones," lead research author Tomas Hrbek from the Federal University of Amazonas told BBC News. "It was something that was very unexpected, it is an area where people see them all the time, they are a large mammal, the thing is nobody really looked. It is very exciting."
Researchers believe the new species formed 2.08 million years ago after the Araguaia-Tocantins basin was cut off from the rest of the Amazon river system by large waterfalls and rapids.
The last river dolphin species discovered was the Chinese baiji in 1918, which researchers believe went extinct in 2006. Three of the four previously known species are all endangered and facing extinction.
"It's exciting evidence for a previously unrecognized species within the ancient lineage of Amazon river dolphins," Scott Baker of Oregon State University in Newport told NewScientist.com
. "Yet it's already rare, and its habitat is now fragmented by dams."
Hrbek said that dam construction on the Araguaia and Tocantins rivers currently threatens the new species and could drive them to extinction sooner than later.
"Its future is pretty bleak," said Hrbek, according to NewScientist.com. "The Araguaia-Tocantins basin suffers huge human disturbance and there are probably less than 1,000 I. araguaiaensis in existence."
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