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

02 August 2018

The melon-headed whale is one of the various species that's called a whale but is technically a dolphin.

There's a new sea creature swimming in Hawaii waters, researchers with the Cascadia Research Collective recently confirmed: a whale-dolphin hybrid.

Hawaii waters are getting interesting as scientists spot the first-ever known hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin. Perhaps in the future, there could be more dolphin and whale hybrids, but it remains to be seen if this previously rare event will become more commonplace down the line.

"After studying the morphological characteristics of the photos, we realized that it was a hybrid of two different species", says marine biologist Robin Baird.

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.

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Killer whales (Orcas) are also Delphinidae or dolphins. Below the leading edge of the dorsal fin, the patterns on it were like those of melon-headed whales, but at the base of and immediately below the dorsal fin, it had darker-colored blotches, similar to those found on rough-toothed dolphins.

Baird and associates plan to keep an eye on the two that were discovered through tracking to see what results it yields. Later they were able to obtain a biopsy sample that proved them correct.

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.

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

Two of the ocean's most beloved sea creatures morph into one unbelievable animal, as a team of researchers discovered in the past year. 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. But don't call it a "wholphin", they say.

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Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species.

The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others.

It's unclear if this is true for this latest hybrid animal. She still lives at the park, the only living example of her kind in captivity.

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

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