Published: Thu, August 02, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Don’t call dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a ‘wholphin’

Don’t call dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a ‘wholphin’

Researchers off the coast of Kauai spotted something weird in mid-July: a unusual hybrid creature that's a mix between a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale.

Whales and dolphins both belong to the same taxonomic order, and are closely enough related that offspring between them can be fertile and have been recorded although they are extremely rare.

"Hybrids among different species of whales and dolphins have been previously recorded, but this is the first case of a hybrid between these two species, and only the third confirmed case (with genetics) of a wild-born hybrid between two species in the family Delphinidae", or oceanic dolphins, Baird told Fox News.

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", researcher Robin Baird said.

Which is a technical way of saying this odd fellow didn't have look exactly like the other whales, but it also didn't look exactly like the other dolphins. It is believed to be the first-ever documented hybrid of its kind, Robin Baird, the project's head researcher, told Fox News in an email.

Researchers were able to collect a skin and blubber sample of animal using a crossbow (yep, being a marine biologist is more badarse than you'd think) with a dart designed lightly prick its skin, going no deeper than 1.5cm.

Many animal hybrids are possible, but few survive past the first generation.

The researchers were in the area to study the marine mammals and other creatures that live in the area around the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

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Scientists who found the specimen tracked numerous species during a study off the island of Kauai past year.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an unbelievable thing to know".

The hybrid was only traveling with one companion - a melon-headed whale.

Hybrids generally occur when there's a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.

Scientists do not know how old the hybrid is, but believe it is close to adult age. Kekaimalu, the only known living first-generation wolphin, which is a cross between a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth to a female calf in 2004, and today the two live together at Oahu's Sea Life Park.

But an animal hybrid doesn't necessarily mean a new species - not even established hybrids, such as the mule.

"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an unbelievable thing to know", said Sea Life park curator Jeff Pawloski in response to the new discovery, which he said was proof of the "genetic diversity of the ocean".

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