Here’s What You Get When a Whale and a Dolphin Mate

Minnie NorrisAug 02, 2018

A team of scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective got a surprise past year.

"It increases their ability to understand not only how species are using the range, but what effects Navy sonar may have on them", Baird says.

Let's face it: Unlikely couples hold a special place in our hearts, whether Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella - or a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin that apparently enjoyed an unlikely inter-species romance a few years ago in the waters off Hawaii.

Baird continued to explain that the "morphological appearance" of the animal promoted researchers to get a biopsy sample. After encountering a large pod of melon-headed whales, the researchers tagged two of them, to see where they might go.

A genetic sample soon confirmed their suspicions: it was a hybrid of the two species, the first to ever be found. They belong to the Delphinidae family, otherwise known as oceanic dolphins, which also includes orcas and two species of pilot whales. Although it had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin.

They plan to return to Kaua'i next month to continue their research.

In August 2017, scientists conducted a wide survey of the waters of Kauai in which they observed the whale and dolphin species residing in the area with the help of boat-based efforts and passive acoustic monitoring.

This is the first hybrid of these two types.

"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.

'I always thought they were out there in the wild existing - it only makes sense, ' he said. "It isn't and shouldn't be considered a new species", Robin Baird, a biologist with the research group, told HuffPost. "And to know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an unbelievable thing to know".

Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species.

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.

In the photo above, the hybrid whale-dolphin swims in the foreground next to a melon-headed whale.

"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an wonderful 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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