Rare whale-dolphin hybrid discovered in Hawaii, scientists say

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters.Image Noaa

Despite the name "whale", which constitutes one of nine families of true whales, several species of dolphin carry the word whale in their names.

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

A new species of aquatic mammal, a hybrid of a whale and a dolphin, has been identified in waters near Hawaii.

Researchers photographed the animal during their field work.

It's the first of its kind ever documented, and was seen spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale.

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Baird continued to explain that the "morphological appearance" of the animal promoted researchers to get a biopsy sample. Perhaps in the future, there could be more dolphin and whale hybrids, but it remains to be seen if this previously rare event will become more commonplace down the line.

The cross-species hybridization may seem freakish, but is made possible by the fact that melon-headed whales aren't actually whales.

The whale-dolphin hybrid is the first recorded example of an offspring of melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins, and only the third recorded sighting of a Delphinidae hybrid in the wild.

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. 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.

The melon-headed whale, which the researchers also observed hanging around during their expedition, is also relatively rare in the waters of Hawaii. Rough-toothed dolphins, on the other hand, prefer to stay in ones or twos.

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The odd pair and their closeness to the other dolphins have led the researchers to speculate that the accompanying melon-headed whale is the hybrid's mother.

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

The research team will return to Kauai next week, hoping to confirm their theory. "It isn't and shouldn't be considered a new species", Robin Baird, a biologist with the research group, told HuffPost.

The US Navy is required to monitor these species as part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly".

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