Half whale, half dolphin . . . just call me a wolphin

Jan Cross
August 1, 2018

Scientists have revealed the first sighting of a cross between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in the ocean off Hawaii.

Although many reports have called the wholphin a brand new species, in reality, this isn't the first time a whale/dolphin hybrid has been found. After encountering a large pod of melon-headed whales, the researchers tagged two of them, to see where they might go.

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. Despite the name "whale", which constitutes one of nine families of true whales, several species of dolphin carry the word whale in their names. "It isn't and shouldn't be considered a new species", Robin Baird, a biologist with the research group, told HuffPost. Although it had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin. Perhaps in the future, there could be more dolphin and whale hybrids, but it remains to be seen if this previously rare event will become more commonplace down the line. This, the researchers believe, could be the hybrid's mother, who is now living with her new family. That's because two animal species are unlikely to have the same number of chromosomes, and hybrids won't be able to reproduce if their parents are too genetically dissimilar.

"That isn't the case, although there are examples where hybridisation has resulted in a new species", he said.

And while this is a new find, it's not quite a "new species", as is being reported web-wide.

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But a hybrid can also tell us something interesting about animal interactions.

The hybrid, pictured in the foreground, swims next to a rare melon-headed whale which is possibly its mother.

They do so through the Cascadia Research Collective, which conducts photo identification, genetic analyzes, and acoustic monitoring to determine the abundance of odontocetes, also known as toothed whales. This is because naval activities, particularly those that use sonar, can disrupt their way of life - and commonly used cetacean frequencies can interfere with sonar.

The researchers named it steno bredanensis.

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