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

Rare whale-dolphin hybrid discovered in Hawaii, scientists say

New Hybrid Whale-Dolphin Discovered Off Hawaii

In a study published last week, experts said the animal first spotted off the island of Kauai in August 2017 appears to be the first time there has been a hybrid between the two species.

But while the discovery is definitely cool, many news reports have jumped the gun a little bit by referring to the creature as a totally "new species".

But scientists behind the study say this is misleading, as the melon-headed whale is technically a type of dolphin.

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", project leader Robin Baird, a biologist, explains to Garden Island.

The definition of what constitutes a "species" is complicated, and even scientists don't all agree entirely.

Many animal hybrids are possible, but few survive past the first generation.

"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.

The dolphin-whale hybridization is especially surprising in this region, as a sighting of melon-headed whales had never before been confirmed near the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) navy base.

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The hybrid was spotted spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale by scientists on a two-week tagging and monitoring effort.

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

There may be similar hybrids out there, he told HuffPost.

He said: "Calling it something like a wholphin doesn't make any sense". Although it had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin. Nor was it exactly a rough-toothed dolphin, which are common to the area.

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.

What's interesting-aside from the fact it's a rare sighting-is that researchers spotted a single melon-headed whale in a pod of rough-toothed dolphins. According to researchers, this may be the mother of the hybrid, which now lives with his new family. But researchers aren't sure yet if that's the cause in this situation.

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

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