Scientists: 1st sighting of dolphin hybrid is no 'wholphin'

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters.Image Noaa

What the researchers discovered was a hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin. They belong to the Delphinidae family, otherwise known as oceanic dolphins, which also includes orcas and two species of pilot whales.

The rare creature is a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin, according to researchers from Cascadia Research Collective.

A report published last week by ocean research organisation Cascadia Research Collective concluded that a mammal spotted off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, in August past year is indeed the product of mating between a dolphin and a whale. It's also only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the Delphinidae family.

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", Baird told The Garden Island newspaper.

They tagged a pair of the melon-headed whales that live in the region to see where they traveled, only to realize one didn't look quite like it should.

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The Navy-funded research had aimed to study the effects of sonar.

But scientists behind the study say this is misleading, as the melon-headed whale is technically a type of dolphin. The marine scientists tagged the hybrid with satellite tracking Global Positioning System, along with a companion, to see where they might go.

Scientists have confirmed that an unusual mammal spotted swimming off the coast of Kauai is a cross between a whale and a dolphin.

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.

The melon-headed whale, which the researchers also observed hanging around during their expedition, is also relatively rare in the waters of Hawaii.

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After all, individual hybrid cases are not usually officially recognized as new species since many hybrids are unable to reproduce. "I always thought they were out there in the wild existing - it only makes sense", he said.

"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an wonderful thing to know".

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. But don't call it a "wholphin", they say.

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

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

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