Don't call dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii

Gwen Vasquez
August 1, 2018

And while many reports have referred to the animal as a whale-dolphin hybrid, it's worth mentioning that technically, melon-headed whales are part of a scientific family of ocean dolphins called Delphinidae. One melon-headed whale was also spotted chilling with a pod of rough-toothed dolphins.

In a study published last week, scientists say the animal spotted off the island of Kauai in August 2017 appears to be the first record of a hybrid involving either species.

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", Baird told The Garden Island newspaper. The family covers sea dolphins and some whales, which is why inter-species breeding is possible.

Baird said this is unlikely to be the start of a whole new species of dolphin, however, because male hybrids are often sterile, and because only one of its kind has been spotted so far.

Marine biologists have welcomed a confirmed sighting of an ultra-rare dolphin-whale hybrid in the wild.

Scientists who found the specimen tracked numerous species during a study off the island of Kauai a year ago. "We were able to get a biopsy sample of the animal" as reported by express.co.uk.

But as Quanta Magazine explains, isolated occurrences of individual hybrids aren't typically considered new species, either because the hybrids can not reproduce or because lone hybrids are apt to just get reabsorbed into existing species by mating with an animal that's the same species as one of its parents.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said.

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Two of the ocean's most beloved sea creatures morph into one unbelievable animal, as a team of researchers discovered in the past year. Although it had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin.

Some hybrid animals, such as the mule - a hybrid of a male donkey and female horse - are mostly sterile and therefore can not propagate easily. For instance, perhaps when the mother was looking for a mate, she was unable to find a suitable one among her own species.

A likely scenario for how the hybrid came to be a melon-headed whale getting separated from its group and ending up travelling with rough-toothed dolphins.

Scientists don't know how old it is but believe it's close to adult age.

And, although rare, other dolphin hybrids are known, such as the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the offspring of a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga.

This latest hybrid animal is not the first to be branded with the "wholfin" name.

The hybrid, named Kekaimalu, still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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