Don't call dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a 'wholphin'

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What the researchers discovered was a hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin. Having noted a pair of melon-headed whales, they observed that one of the pair had pigementation and morphological features that suggested that it might in fact be a hybrid.

The mammal is "only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the Delphinidae family", according to an Associated Press report. Below the leading edge of the dorsal fin, the patterns on it were like those of melon-headed whales, but at the base of and immediately below the dorsal fin, it had darker-colored blotches, similar to those found on rough-toothed dolphins.

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

"Such hybridization, where the genetic data of one species is integrated into another, has always been suspected as a source of taxonomic uncertainty in dolphins, and this case lends support to that", Baird added. Last year, amid a series of research sponsored by the U.S. Navy, scientists came across an unusual hybrid between a whale and a dolphin.

Scientists who found the specimen tracked numerous species during a study off the island of Kauai previous year. Later they were able to obtain a biopsy sample that proved them correct.

He said: "Calling it something like a wholphin doesn't make any sense".

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. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an incredible thing to know".

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The male hybrid presents an opportunity to look for others.

And, although rare, other dolphin hybrids are known, such as the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the offspring of a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga.

Melon-headed whales, he explains, usually travel together in groups of around 250.

This latest hybrid animal is not the first to be branded with the "wholfin" name.

Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species, so scientists will be looking out for such a decline.

"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an fantastic thing to know", said Sea Life park curator Jeff Pawloski in response to the new discovery, which he said was proof of the "genetic diversity of the ocean".

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