Science

Researchers Off Kauai Discovered a Strange New Whale/Dolphin Hybrid

Researchers Off Kauai Discovered a Strange New Whale/Dolphin Hybrid

There's a new sea creature swimming in Hawaii waters, researchers with the Cascadia Research Collective recently confirmed: a whale-dolphin hybrid.

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.

Which is a technical way of saying this odd fellow didn't have look exactly like the other whales, but it also didn't look exactly like the other dolphins.

However, for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridisation, Baird said.

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.

But scientists behind the study say this is misleading, as the melon-headed whale is technically a type of dolphin.

The hybrid had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, but it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin. Nevertheless, the findings are still exciting, and scientists are hopeful that there's more discoveries to come.

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Baird continued to explain that the "morphological appearance" of the animal promoted researchers to get a biopsy sample.

In conversation with CBS News, Baird said that the team will return to the island next month, where they aim to do further testing of the surrounding areas. The biologist confirmed to HuffPost that the whale-dolphin hybrid "isn't and shouldn't be considered a new species". 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. In the 11-day period, the scientists made hundreds of sightings of various species such as bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, sperm whales, and spinner dolphins.

"It increases their ability to understand not only how species are using the range, but what effects Navy sonar may have on them", Baird says.

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

Although they are present in all three major oceans, rough-toothed dolphins are still not as widely studied as other dolphin species.

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

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