Half whale-half dophin spotted for first time off coast of Hawaii

Katie Ramirez
August 2, 2018

They were doing field work in the waters near Kauai when they spotted a pod of melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins swimming alongside each other.

The hybrid was especially rare because of its melon-headed genes: The toothed-whales are rarely seen in these Hawaiian waters, the researchers wrote. But there is something unmistakably charming about a dolphin and a whale hitting it off and producing dolphin-whale offspring, as has been sighted off the coast of Hawaii.

Some news organisations have described the melon-headed whale and rough-toothed dolphin hybrid as a new species, but other things would still need to occur, including more widespread hybridisation.

"Before you go tie your head in knots wondering how a whale managed to successfully reproduce with a dolphin - it didn't".

Both pigmentation and morphological characteristics suggested it may be a hybrid resulting from a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin mating, scientists explained in the new report.

For a long time scientists kept the discovery secret.

However, it wasn't until a biopsy that they were able to confirm their suspicions.

In some cases, hybrids breeding with hybrids can ultimately lead to the formation of distinct new species, but there's no evidence that's happening here, according to Baird. Both species belong to the Delphinidae (oceanic dolphin) family, but the report notes that cross-species unions between them are unusual: It's only the third recorded example in the Delphinidae family, and the first between these two species. The marine scientists tagged the hybrid with satellite tracking Global Positioning System, along with a companion, to see where they might go.

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Labelling the newly discovered hybrid a "wholphin" may mean people wrongly assume it is a cross between two very different animals, scientists said.

This is the first hybrid of these two types.

The hybrid, pictured again in the foreground, was fathered by a rough-toothed dolphin, scientists said.

A mule, for instance, is a hybrid between a male donkey and a female horse.

Hybrids can be the effect of a population drop in one species and an individual experiences difficulty in finding a mate.

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.

Many animal hybrids are possible, but few survive past the first generation. Wholphins have also been conceived in captivity with the last one at Sea Life Park in Hawaii.

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

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