Chances aren’t great that you’ve seen a snubfin dolphin. In fact, they’re not even good that you’ve heard of them. But a ranger at Queenland Parks and Wildlife Service in Australia stumbled into a once in a lifetime photo opportunity earlier this month.
The reason you probably haven’t heard of the snubfin dolphin is because it is exceedingly shy. They’re not like other members of the dolphin family; their shyness almost always wins out over their curiosity. They live in very tight-knit groups–so tight, in fact, that when they’re playing or feeding with each other, they are so engaged on the individual they’re with that they don’t notice oncoming boats. According to the World Wildlife Federation, this is a very real problem. They also are extremely susceptible to coastal development and commercial fishing, driving their numbers to dangerously low levels.
That’s why, when the smiling creature you see above emerged from a pod of humpback dolphins off the coast of Northern Australia, looked right at the camera, and smiled, Emma Schidt, the lucky ranger, was so surprised. According to Schmidt, she’s only seen two snubfins in twelve years of patrolling the area.
“They are very rare, so this photo was just pure luck,” Schmidt told the Townsville Bulletin.
While researchers aren’t exactly sure how big of a range the snubfin has, they suspect that the dolphins may live as far away from the north coast of Australia as West Papua.