What it looks like: The Australian Snubfin is a small dolphin that can grow to 2.7m long, but is usually smaller. It gets it name from the small triangular fin on its back. Its blunt head has a round forehead and a ‘smiling’ mouthline. Snubfins are pale grey in colour, but in some lights can appear almost black.

Australian Snubfin Dolphin - Orcaella heinsohni

Photo: © Marguerite Tarzia


Where it lives: Together with the Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphins, Australian Snubfins are one of only three strictly coastal dolphin species found in north Australian waters. Snubfins occur along the northern coastline from Broome in Western Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and off the east coast as far south as Brisbane. They feed in seagrass beds, preferring protected, shallow coastal waters, up to 15 m deep, especially adjacent to river and creek mouths. They are almost always found within 10 km of the coast and frequent river estuaries, and were recently seen 50 km upstream in the South Alligator River in Kakadu National Park.

Importance as an indicator: Healthy populations of Australian Snubfins are likely to reflect productive and well managed coastal and estuarine environments. As upper level predators, Snubfins are likely to have a controlling influence on the size of the fish populations on which they feed. Their extinction could have far-reaching consequences for coastal and estuarine environments, giving them high biodiversity and conservation value. Moreover, as iconic species in these highly diverse ecosystems, conservation plans based on Snubfin and Humpback Dolphins could be implemented to deliver broader biodiversity benefits.

Look after Australian Snubfins by minimising any human-induced disturbances to these dolphins or their environments. Commercial fish-take should be managed at sustainable levels to ensure food remains for the dolphins, and accidental catching of dolphins should be prevented. Every effort should be made to reduce pollution entering marine waters, particularly of fishing nets, in which the dolphins can become entangled. Seagrass beds should be protected from dredging or pollution from land-based activities. Both commercial and recreational shipping traffic should avoid dolphin feeding habitat wherever possible.

Best Practice Management for Australian Snubfin

  •  Limit pesticide use
  • Take care with fertiliser use
  • Manage water extraction sutainably
  • Look after riparian health 
  • Manage fisheries sustainably 
  • Adapt lonline equipment to reduce seabird bycatch
  • Reduce bycatch
  • Clean up ghost nets 
  • Prevent marine pollution
  • Protect seagrass beds
  • Minimise tourist impact 
  • Report new populatons
  • Increased information on this species required