"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. 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.
The researchers told CBS News that the animal's father was a rough-toothed dolphin and the mother a melon-headed whale. With the head and body of a melon-headed whale and the steep dorsal fin of a rough-toothed dolphin, their interest was piqued.
While some news organization have described the melon-headed whale and rough-toothed dolphin hybrid as a new species, in order for that to happen other things need to occur, including more widespread hybridization, Baird said.
The whales swam south of Kauai and then back to the channel between Maui and Oahu, while the dolphins lingered just off the coast of Hawaii before diving into deeper waters.
Baird continued to explain that the "morphological appearance" of the animal promoted researchers to get a biopsy sample.
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. In the 11-day period, the scientists made hundreds of sightings of various species such as bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, sperm whales, and spinner dolphins. 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.More news: Facebook grapples with evolving threat in the countdown to midterm elections
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"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said. Both were spotted in a pod of rough-toothed dolphins.
He said: "Calling it something like a wholphin doesn't make any sense".
"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an incredible 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". "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an incredible thing to know".
Hybrids can be the effect of a population drop in one species and an individual experiences difficulty in finding a mate.
The researchers also determined that the hybrid is a male and that he stayed particularly close to its melon-headed whale companion for the duration of the observation period.