Don’t call it a wholphin: first sighting of rare whale-dolphin hybrid

Scientists have identified a creature that they believe to be a hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin

Scientists are touting the first sighting of a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in the ocean off Hawaii. But dont call it a wholphin, they say.

The melon-headed whale is one of the various species thats called a whale but is technically a dolphin.

Calling it something like a wholphin doesnt make any sense, said one of the studys authors, Robin Baird, a Hawaii research biologist with Washington state-based Cascadia Research Collective. I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is.

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

The label wholphin has stuck for a hybrid born in 1985 at Hawaiis Sea Life Park of a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. The hybrid named Kekaimalu still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics. News of the hybrid spotted in the wild during navy-funded research to study the effects of sonar, proves the genetic diversity of the ocean, said Sea Life park curator Jeff Pawloski. To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an amazing thing to know.

While some news organisations have described the melon-headed whale and rough-toothed dolphin hybrid as a new species, in order for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridisation, Baird said.

That isnt the case, although there are examples where hybridisation has resulted in a new species, he said. Theres no evidence to suggest its leading toward anything like species formation.

The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others. Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.

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


Leave a Reply