World News

New species of hybrid dolphin discovered in Hawaii

New species of hybrid dolphin discovered in Hawaii

Researchers off the coast of Kauai spotted something weird in mid-July: a odd hybrid creature that's a mix between a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale.

The animal was seen past year, but a new report from Cascadia Research Collective confirms the sea creature is the result of a whale and a dolphin mating, the team's head researcher told CBS News.

"What could have happened is that the mother, a melon-headed whale may, have become separated from her pod, begun to stay with single rough-toothed dolphins, and become used to swimming with the other species", Baird said.

Scientists from the Cascadia Research Collective observed the pair off the Hawaiian Islands and confirmed that the existence of the hybrid in August 2017.

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

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", Baird told The Garden Island newspaper.

The melon-headed whale might be called a whale, but the species is technically a type of dolphin. It is believed to be the first-ever documented hybrid of its kind, Robin Baird, the project's head researcher, told Fox News in an email. Soon after, they were able to get DNA, which led them to the definitive conclusion that it was indeed a hybrid of the two species.

Researchers were able to collect a skin and blubber sample of animal using a crossbow (yep, being a marine biologist is more badarse than you'd think) with a dart designed lightly prick its skin, going no deeper than 1.5cm.

Scientists who found the specimen tracked numerous species during a study off the island of Kauai previous year. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an fantastic thing to know".

The discovery of a hybrid animal might sound surprising, but it turns out that hybridization among different species is not unheard of.

A mule, for instance, is a hybrid between a male donkey and a female horse. For one thing, hybrids can occur when the paternal species goes through a population drop and "individuals have difficulty finding mates".

Scientists don't know how old it is but believe it's close to adult age.

And, although rare, other dolphin hybrids are known, such as the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the offspring of a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga.

It's unclear if this is true for this latest hybrid animal.

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


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