Scientists Have Spotted A Rare Whale-Dolphin Hybrid Near Hawaii

Scientists have confirmed an unusual sea creature spotted near Hawaii is a whale-dolphin hybrid.

A rare whale-dolphin hybrid has been spotted off the coast of Hawaii. A recent genetic analysis revealed the unusual creature is an offspring of a male rough-toothed dolphin and a female melon-headed whale. 

It’s the first ever known hybrid of its kind. The unusual sea creature was first spotted by researchers with the Cascadia Research Collective back in August 2017. The group were on a two-week field trip documenting marine life around the Pacific Missile Range Facility. 

The scientists spent hours observing and recording marine life in the area when they spotted the creature. According to the report from the trip, it was the animal's pigmentation and morphological characteristics that caused it to stand out. 

Scientists confirm whale-dolphin hybrid suspicions 

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species," marine biologist Robin Baird told The Garden Island. The team confirmed their suspicions by obtaining a biopsy sample using a crossbow equipped with a special dart that prevents deep penetration and returns a skin sample. 

The sample was analyzed and the animal's unusual parenting pairing confirmed. It’s the first known rough-toothed dolphin/melon-headed whale hybrid and only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the family Delphinidae.

Whale mother leaves pod to live with dolphins

The hybrid is even more unusual due to the rareness of the melon-headed whale in Hawaiian waters. They reported just seeing one large pod, estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300 individual animals. 

They also reported seeing pantropical spotted dolphins, another rare species of the area. Adding further mystery to the case is the reports that one melon-headed whale was observed hanging around a pod of rough-toothed dolphins. 

The scientists hypothesize that this whale could be the hybrid’s mother, now living with her new dolphin family. Although the hybrid is rare, it isn’t the only known dolphin-whale love child. 

These occur when species of whale such as orcas, beluga whales, and pilot whales, who are in fact a species of dolphin, mate with dolphins who are a sub-family of whales. Other known hybrids include the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also Delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the baby born from a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga. 

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Unfortunately, hybrids generally cannot mate because they are often born infertile. But this isn’t always the case, recently scientists discovered a species of finches in the Galapagos that hybridization led to a new species being created in just two generations. 

Hybrids provide great research fodder for scientists, offering insights into breeding habits, cross-species communication, and migration patterns.

The full report from the research trip can be read here.

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