A wholphin? A dolphale? Whatever you call it, the first known hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin is a wonder.
Nobody ever said that animals of different species couldn't mate. We've got mules and beefalos, ligers and zonkeys, after all. But there is something unmistakably amazing about a dolphin and a whale hitting it off and producing dolphin-whale offspring, as has been sighted off the coast of Hawaii.
The new hybrid marine mammal is part rough-toothed dolphin and part melon-headed whale – which presents all kinds of opportunities for portmanteau names should these creatures become more common. In the photo above, the hybrid whale-dolphin swims in the foreground next to a melon-headed whale.
The discovery came about last year when a team of scientists from Cascadia Research Collective were undertaking a two-week project tracking and observing cetaceans off the coast of Kaua'i. Having noted a pair of melon-headed whales, they observed that one of the pair had pigmentation and morphological features that suggested that it might in fact be a hybrid. Later they were able to obtain a biopsy sample that proved them correct.
"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species," says marine biologist Robin Baird, lead author of a report in which the discovery is described. "Based on the genetics, the father was a rough-toothed dolphin and the mother a melon-headed whale."
In an interview with Hawaii newspaper, The Garden Island, Baird said the discovery is their "most unusual finding."
The team will be returning to Kauai's waters next month, when they hope to get more photos of the new hybrid whale-dolphin as well as further research on other species in the area. Who knows what may await them, maybe they'll find a squidopus or an eelray. But really, it's hard to beat a melon-headed rough-toothed wholphin.