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

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Scientists say the animal likely came to be when a melon-headed whale was separated from its group and ending up traveling with rough-toothed dolphins.

This Aug. 11, 2017, photo provided by Cascadia Research shows a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin, in the foreground, swimming next to a melon-headed dolphin near Kauai, Hawaii.

Scientists from Cascadia Research Collective, off the coast of Hawaii have discovered an unusual mammal - a hybrid of a whale and a Dolphin.

Baird told ABC News the hybrid animal was pictured with a single melon-headed whale both times they spotted it, which added to the mystery surrounding the unusual animal. Just like killer whales - orcas and beluga whales, melon-headed whales are all a type of dolphin, they are from the same species-delphinidae-and dolphins by themselves are known to be a sub-family of whales in the first place.

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".

"We don't have any information on population trends for either species in Hawaii, so can't say whether this is the case, but we'll be looking for evidence of additional hybrids", he said.

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.

Scientists who found the specimen tracked numerous species during a study off the island of Kauai a year ago.

However, it wasn't until a biopsy that they were able to confirm their suspicions.

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"If we were lucky enough to find the pair again, we would try to get a biopsy sample of the accompanying melon-headed whale, to see whether it might be the mother of the hybrid, as well as get underwater images of the hybrid to better assess morphological differences from the parent species", said Baird.

News of the hybrid proves the 'genetic diversity of the ocean, ' Sea Life Park curator Jeff Pawloski said.

The cross-species hybridization may seem weird, but is made possible by the fact that melon-headed whales aren't actually whales.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an fantastic thing to know".

Of the creatures detected, the scientists observed rough-toothed dolphins the most times, the longest encounters of which were of the mixed-species kind, while one other sighting was of a mixed group of rough-toothed dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Although they are present in all three major oceans, rough-toothed dolphins are still not as widely studied as other dolphin species.

It didn't, for example, have the rounded head of melon-headed whales, and yet its beak was shorter than those of rough-toothed dolphins.

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

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

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