Don't call the dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a 'wholphin'

Kimberly A. Wood under Cascadia Research Collective NMFS permit 20605

Kimberly A. Wood under Cascadia Research Collective NMFS permit 20605

They belong to the Delphinidae family, otherwise known as oceanic dolphins, which also includes orcas and two species of pilot whales. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly".

In a study published last week, scientists say the animal spotted off the island of Kauai in August 2017 appears to be the first record of a hybrid involving either species.

Despite the fact that earlier hybrids among different species of whales and dolphins have been recorded, the baby of these two species found for the first time.

"Such hybridization, where the genetic data of one species is integrated into another, has always been suspected as a source of taxonomic uncertainty in dolphins, and this case lends support to that", Baird added.

While some news organizations have described the hybrid as a new species, research biologist Robin Baird says in order for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridization.

In an email to Huffington Post, Baird adds that the genetics revealed the creature's father was a rough-toothed dolphin, while the mother was a melon-headed whale. This, too was unusual, given that melon-headed whales typically travel in groups of 200-300.

Despite the name, melon-headed whales aren't actually whales - they're part of the dolphin family, and they tend to swim in large pods with hundreds of others of their kind.

The marine mammal monitoring program, funded by the US Navy, first spotted the animal in August 2017.

The so-called wolphin has been confirmed by scientists after it was spotted on a research trip near Kauai island.

They were able to take a sample for a biopsy, which confirmed their suspicions. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an awesome thing to know".

Four years later, Keikaimalu was born at Hawaii's Sea Life Park in Hawaii, the result of "an unplanned union" between a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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

The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others.

Melon-headed whales, he explains, usually travel together in groups of around 250.

It's unclear if this is true for this latest hybrid animal. For one thing, hybrids can occur when the paternal species goes through a population drop and "individuals have difficulty finding mates".

"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an wonderful thing to know", said Sea Life park curator Jeff Pawloski in response to the new discovery, which he said was proof of the "genetic diversity of the ocean".

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