Scientists discover rare dolphin-whale hybrid near Hawaii

Scientists have discovered a rare hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in waters near Kauai, Hawaii.


Scientists have discovered a rare hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin in waters near Kauai, Hawaii.

The discovery, made last year, was confirmed this week in a report released by researchers with the Cascadia Research Collective, a nonprofit which in August 2017 conducted a two-week project to photograph, tag and record audio of marine mammals.

The hybrid was the team’s “most unusual finding,” said project lead Robin Baird. 

“We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species,” Baird told The Garden Island newspaper. “We were able to get a biopsy sample of the animal.”

A genetic analysis revealed the animal was likely a first-generation hybrid between a female melon-headed whale (a rarely seen type of dolphin) and a male rough-toothed dolphin, marking what’s thought to be the first-ever documented discovery of a hybrid between the two mammals.

The researchers named it steno bredanensis.

“Hybrids among different species of whales and dolphins have been previously recorded, but this is the first case of a hybrid between these two species, and only the third confirmed case (with genetics) of a wild-born hybrid between two species in the family Delphinidae,” or oceanic dolphins, Baird told Fox News.


Photo: Алексей Шилин

The dolphin hybrid was a rare find, but crosses between species in the animal kingdom are actually quite common.

A mule, for instance, is a hybrid between a male donkey and a female horse. There’s also more exotic hybrids–zonkeys (donkey and zebra), ligers (lion and tiger), pizzlies (polar and grizzly bear), beefalo (domestic cow and buffalo) and wolfdogs. And, perhaps surprisingly, you might even be a hybrid yourself, considering scientists have identified slight traces of Neanderthal DNA in humans.

Many animal hybrids are possible, but few survive past the first generation. That’s because two animal species are unlikely to have the same number of chromosomes, and hybrids won’t be able to reproduce if their parents are too genetically dissimilar. Even if hybrids can reproduce, they’d likely face other challenges in their environment, like being disadvantaged by their uniquely inherited traits or competition from other species. It’s for these reasons that hybrids in the plant kingdom are often more successful.


Mark Interrante via Flickr

Still, some dolphin hybrids have successfully reproduced. Kekaimalu, the only known living first-generation wolphin, which is a cross between a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth to a female calf in 2004, and today the two live together at Oahu’s Sea Life Park. However, that baby was the result of her third pregnancy; her first offspring died in infancy, the other at age 9.

Much remains a mystery about the newly discovered dolphin hybrid, but the Cascadia Research Collective team hopes to learn more about it and other marine mammals in another project in the Hawaiian waters this August.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.

(Goldstein Lab/Wkikpedia/Tigerspaws/Big Think)
Surprising Science
  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Keep reading Show less

If you want to spot a narcissist, look at the eyebrows

Bushier eyebrows are associated with higher levels of narcissism, according to new research.

Big Think illustration / Actor Peter Gallagher attends the 24th and final 'A Night at Sardi's' to benefit the Alzheimer's Association at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
popular
  • Science has provided an excellent clue for identifying the narcissists among us.
  • Eyebrows are crucial to recognizing identities.
  • The study provides insight into how we process faces and our latent ability to detect toxic people.
Keep reading Show less

Why are women more religious than men? Because men are more willing to take risks.

It's one factor that can help explain the religiosity gap.

Photo credit: Alina Strong on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
  • A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
  • The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.
Keep reading Show less