Kimberly A. Wood under Cascadia Research Collective NMFS permit 20605
02 August, 2018, 09:32
Melon-headed whales are technicallydolphins and belong to the family Delphinidae. Once Baird and his team were able to verify the presence of both rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale in the area, they then turned to the US Navy for some additional assistance.
Scientists are touting the first sighting of a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in the ocean off Hawaii.
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.
While some news organizations have described the hybrid as a new species, research biologist Robin Baird says in order for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridization.
"If we find it again, we'd like to try to get a biopsy sample of the melon-headed whale it was associated with as well as get underwater footage [and] images to better assess morphology", Baird said.
While Baird noted that the chances of finding the hybrid for a second time are slim, researchers will be returning to Kauai next month to further investigate the discovery.
Scientists are reluctant to use the term, however, and Dr Baird said the animals can not be considered their own species without more widespread hybridisation.
However, he's not he first dolphin hybrid from the wild, with researchers noting he was the third known case of the Delphinidae family partnering up outside their species.
He's believe to be the first example of cross-species lovin' between rough-toothed dolphins and melon-headed whales.
Labelling the newly discovered hybrid a "wholphin" may mean people wrongly assume it is a cross between two very different animals, scientists said.
"There's no evidence to suggest it's leading toward anything like species formation".
Rough-toothed dolphins are also known to swim in tropical and warmer temperate waters. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an incredible thing to know".
Although they are present in all three major oceans, rough-toothed dolphins are still not as widely studied as other dolphin species.
They tagged a pair of the melon-headed whales that live in the region to see where they traveled, only to realize one didn't look quite like it should.
Scientists do not know how old the hybrid is, but believe it is close to adult age. Wholphins have also been conceived in captivity with the last one at Sea Life Park in Hawaii.
It's unclear if this is true for this latest hybrid animal.
That hybrid, named Kekaimalu, still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics.
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