Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters.Image Noaa
01 August, 2018, 23:14
What's interesting-aside from the fact it's a rare sighting-is that researchers spotted a single melon-headed whale in a pod of rough-toothed dolphins.
It's the first of its kind ever documented, and was seen spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale. 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. With the head and body of a melon-headed whale and the steep dorsal fin of a rough-toothed dolphin, their interest was piqued.
Audio recordings of the two species vocalizing were also achieved for the very first time.
The Navy-funded research had aimed to study the effects of sonar.
The label "wholphin" was the name given to a hybrid born in 1985 at Hawaii's Sea Life Park of a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin.
The research team will return to Kauai next week, hoping to confirm their theory.
They were able to take a sample for a biopsy, which confirmed their suspicions.
The hybrid, pictured again in the foreground, was fathered by a rough-toothed dolphin, scientists said.
'Genetic analyses of a biopsy sample obtained from the putative hybrid in comparison to a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin indicated that the individual has the genotype expected for an F1 hybrid at 11 of 14 nucleotide positions, ' the authors wrote.
But as Quanta Magazine explains, isolated occurrences of individual hybrids aren't typically considered new species, either because the hybrids can not reproduce or because lone hybrids are apt to just get reabsorbed into existing species by mating with an animal that's the same species as one of its parents.
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News of the hybrid proves the 'genetic diversity of the ocean, ' Sea Life Park curator Jeff Pawloski said.
"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", project leader Robin Baird, a biologist, explains to Garden Island.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said.
"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an wonderful thing to know".
The hybrid, named Kekaimalu, still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics.
Some hybrid animals, such as the mule - a hybrid of a male donkey and female horse - are mostly sterile and therefore can not propagate easily.
Hybrids generally occur when there's a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.
The hybrid was only traveling with one companion - a melon-headed whale.
The male "wholphin", which is believed to be close to adult age, was spotted swimming with dolphins near the island of Kauai past year, according to Dr Robin Baird, the marine biologist who headed the expedition.
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