Don't call dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii

Cesar Mills
August 1, 2018

It's the first of its kind ever documented, and was seen spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale. That's because two animal species are unlikely to have the same number of chromosomes, and hybrids won't be able to reproduce if their parents are too genetically dissimilar.

"The head shape appears intermediate between the two species, with a gently-sloping rostrum rather than the rounded-head of a melon-headed whales but which is truncated compared to rough-toothed dolphins", researchers 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.

The sighting is also only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the Delphinidae family.

Baird told BuzzFeed News that the team will head back to Kauai in August, where they will try to determine whether the female melon-headed whale seen swimming alongside the "wholphin" previous year is its mother.

The so-called wolphin has been confirmed by scientists after it was spotted on a research trip near Kauai island.

In a report published this month, the researchers said it had "pigmentation and morphological characteristics suggesting it may be a hybrid". "We were able to get a biopsy sample of the animal".

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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.

Two of the ocean's most beloved sea creatures morph into one unbelievable animal, as a team of researchers discovered in the past year.

However, for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridisation, Baird said.

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

Hybrids can be the effect of a population drop in one species and an individual experiences difficulty in finding a mate. There have been other cases of wholphins in the past, most notably at Hawaii's Sea Life Park aquarium in 1985, when a female bottlenose dolphin had a calf with a male false killer whale.

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

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

Other reports by GizPress

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