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Don't call the dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a 'wholphin'

Don't call the dolphin hybrid spotted off Hawaii a 'wholphin'

Scientists are touting the first sighting of a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin off 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.

The discovery, made a year ago, 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. Both species belong to the Delphinidae (oceanic dolphin) family, but the report notes that cross-species unions between them are unusual: It's only the third recorded example in the Delphinidae family, and the first between these two species.

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species", project leader Robin Baird, a biologist, explains to Garden Island.

Although many reports have called the wholphin a brand new species, in reality, this isn't the first time a whale/dolphin hybrid has been found.

Hybrids generally occur when there is a decline in the population in one of the parental species. Later they were able to obtain a biopsy sample that proved them correct.

The Navy-funded research had aimed to study the effects of sonar.

About the discovery of a new species of dolphins, scientists have not yet spoken, because it is not known whether this is a new animal to create viable offspring.

This Aug. 11, 2017, photo provided by Cascadia Research shows a hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin, in the foreground, swimming next to a melon-headed dolphin near Kauai, Hawaii.

While Baird noted that the chances of finding the hybrid for a second time are slim, researchers will be returning to Kauai next month to further investigate the discovery. But don't call it a "wholphin", they say.

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 awesome thing to know".

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.

The hybrid was only traveling with one companion - a melon-headed whale. For instance, perhaps when the mother was looking for a mate, she was unable to find a suitable one among her own species.

The male "wholphin", which is believed to be close to adult age, was spotted swimming with dolphins near the island of Kauai past year, according to Dr Robin Baird, the marine biologist who headed the expedition.

That hybrid, named Kekaimalu, still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics.

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