Scientists spot unique whale-dolphin hybrid near Hawaii

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters

Melon-headed whales swimming in tropical waters

Note that the hybrid shares some physical characteristics with members of both species, including the colorization of the whale and a snout that resembles his dolphin brethren.

The hybrid had a typical melon-headed whale's dorsal fin shape and dorsal cape, but it was also blotchy in pigmentation and had a sloping forehead, more reminiscent of a rough-toothed dolphin.

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.

In a study published last week, scientists say the animal spotted off the island of Kauai in August 2017 appears to be the first record of a hybrid involving either species.

This is believed to be the first hybrid between these two species.

The mammal is "only the third confirmed instance of a wild-born hybrid between species in the Delphinidae family", according to an Associated Press report.

Researchers were able to collect a skin and blubber sample of animal using a crossbow (yep, being a marine biologist is more badarse than you'd think) with a dart designed lightly prick its skin, going no deeper than 1.5cm.

This confirmed the animal's parentage - and the finding is really unusual, not just because it's the first known rough-toothed dolphin/melon-headed whale hybrid.

The hybrid, pictured again in the foreground, was fathered by a rough-toothed dolphin, scientists said.

The result of breeding between a a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale has created an entirely new species. The latter is a rarity in Hawaii, The Garden-Island reported.

Baird said this is unlikely to be the start of a whole new species of dolphin, however, because male hybrids are often sterile, and because only one of its kind has been spotted so far. 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.

But an animal hybrid doesn't necessarily mean a new species - not even established hybrids, such as the mule.

And, although rare, other dolphin hybrids are known, such as the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the offspring of a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga.

The discovery of a hybrid animal might sound surprising, but it turns out that hybridization among different species is not unheard of.

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

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