Scientists: 1st sighting of dolphin hybrid is no ‘wholphin’

Ismael LynchAug 02, 2018

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

Scientists are touting the first sighting of a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in the ocean off Hawaii.

"It isn't and shouldn't be considered a new species", Robin Baird, a biologist with the research group, told HuffPost in an email.

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.

The team also suggested this little guy's mother was a whale who mated with a dolphin.

The odd pair and their closeness to the other dolphins have led the researchers to speculate that the accompanying melon-headed whale is the hybrid's mother. In an interview with local newspaper The Garden Island, one of the scientists said the discovery was their "most unusual finding".

Baird continued to explain that the "morphological appearance" of the animal promoted researchers to get a biopsy sample.

Scientists are reluctant to use the term, however, and Dr Baird said the animals can not be considered their own species without more widespread hybridisation. The marine scientists tagged the hybrid with satellite tracking Global Positioning System, along with a companion, to see where they might go.

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" past year is its mother. 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.

"We're hoping that just by talking to some tour operators and fishermen, especially folks heading across the channel to Niihau, we might get tips and encounter something like pilot whales", Baird said, as he outlined his plans to track the species further.

Rough-toothed dolphins are also known to swim in tropical and warmer temperate waters.

'This is the first known hybrid between these two species'.

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

Hybrids generally occur when there's a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.

The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others.

This latest hybrid animal is not the first to be branded with the "wholfin" name. She still lives at the park, the only living example of her kind in captivity.

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

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