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

Erika Holt
August 2, 2018

He's believe to be the first example of cross-species lovin' between rough-toothed dolphins and melon-headed whales.

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. One melon-headed whale was also spotted chilling with a pod of rough-toothed dolphins.

In 2017, before future naval officers trained on submarines in the waters around Kauai - a place called the Pacific Missile Range Facility - the U.S. Navy hired marine researchers from the Cascadia Research Collective to study the native animals in these seas.

The term was first used in 1985 at Hawaii's Sea Life Park for a hybrid between a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. Marine Biologist from the Cascadia Research Collective Robin Baird said "We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species".

The hybrid was spotted spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale by scientists on a two-week tagging and monitoring effort. "Based on the genetics, the father was a rough-toothed dolphin and the mother a melon-headed whale".

The hybrid has been named Steno bredanensis, and is the first of its kind to be seen anywhere.

"There's no evidence to suggest it's leading toward anything like species formation".

They were able to take a sample for a biopsy, which confirmed their suspicions.

The melon-headed whale, which the researchers also observed hanging around during their expedition, is also relatively rare in the waters of Hawaii.

About the discovery of a new species of dolphins, scientists have not yet spoken, because it is not known whether this is a new animal to create viable offspring.

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To continue to study the tropical Hawaiian waters, the scientists plan to return to the coast in August where they spotted the animal to continue their research.

'I always thought they were out there in the wild existing - it only makes sense, ' he said.

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

A mule, for instance, is a hybrid between a male donkey and a female horse.

Hybrids can be the effect of a population drop in one species and an individual experiences difficulty in finding a mate.

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

Scientists do not know how old the hybrid is, but believe it is close to adult age.

This latest hybrid animal is not the first to be branded with the "wholfin" name.

"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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