Scientists Discover Rare Whale-Dolphin Hybrid Near Hawaii


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A hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin (in front) swims next to a melon-headed whale, probably his mother (Photo Credit: Kimberly A. Wood/Cascadia Research)

Every now and again, Mother Nature reveals a delightful surprise in the form of something unusual and remarkable. One such extraordinary occurrence is the recent discovery of an extremely rare hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin. The mammal was first sighted in August 2017 by a group of researchers on a two-week expedition to document marine life off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

The Cascadia Research Collective scientists were observing a pod of rough-toothed dolphins when they noticed, what appeared to be, two specimens of melon-headed whales. Upon looking closer, they realized that one of the two “whales” looked a little different. The animal had a melon-headed whale’s dorsal fin and dorsal cape but a rough-toothed dolphin’s blotchy pigmentation and sloping forehead. Close-up pictures appeared to indicate that the researchers had stumbled upon a hybrid of the two species.

The hybrid is a mix between the rough-toothed dolphin (left) and the melon-headed whale (right) (Photo Credit: Robin W. Baird/Cascadia Research)

To confirm their suspicions, the scientists used a crossbow, equipped with a special dart, to extract the mammal’s skin sample without harming it. They then compared the DNA in the tissue to the genetic data of the two species collected by scientists over many years. In a report published in July 2018, the team confirmed that the odd-looking male was indeed the offspring of a melon-headed whale mother and a rough-toothed dolphin father. The researchers suspect the whale observed swimming alongside the hybrid is most likely its mom. They speculate she got separated from its pod and decided to join the rough-toothed dolphins.

This is the fourth-known hybrid of the Oceanic dolphins, or Delphinidae, and the only one found in the wild. The first specimen was born at Tokyo’s Kamogawa SeaWorld but died within 200 days. Fortunately, Kekaimalu, the offspring of a false killer whale and a bottlenose dolphin, born at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park is healthy and even mated with a male bottle-nose dolphin to give birth to another hybrid female, "Kawili Kai.”

Kawili Kai, the daughter of Kekaimalu and a male bottle-nose dolphin at Sea Life Park (Photo Credit Mark Interrante from Silicon Valley, USA CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

While the hybrids are commonly referred to as “wholphins,” the scientists say the moniker is misleading. That’s because though we may think of whales and dolphins as different species, they are all Oceanic dolphins. Therefore, the latest find is just a hybridization between two different species of dolphins. “Calling it something like a wholphin doesn’t make any sense,” says research biologist and the study’s lead author Robin Baird. “I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is.”

The team is also reluctant to classify the specimen as a new species since lone hybrids are often unable to reproduce. For a new species to emerge, hybridization would have to occur much more frequently, and the hybrids would have to be able to reproduce and prefer to breed with one another. Regardless, the team is excited about the discovery and plan to head back to Kauai to research the hybrid further, and also test the DNA of the melon-headed whale in the pod to confirm if she is indeed the mother.


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Reading Comprehension (11 questions)

  1. What was extraordinary about the mammal sighted by scientists in August 17?
  2. What were the Cascadia Research Collective scientists doing when they sighted the unusual mammal?

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What should the scientists name the recently found hybrid mammal? Why is...


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"They speculate she got separated from its pod and decided to join the rough-toothed dolphins." In the above sentence, the word speculate most likely means: (a) form a theory without firm...

  • huggie
    huggieWednesday, April 17, 2019 at 5:53 am
    • Jake🤑Wednesday, April 10, 2019 at 10:05 am
      Wow 😃
      • AnnabelleFriday, April 5, 2019 at 8:22 am
        Awesome. This was posted on my birthday last year!
        • patthecat360
          patthecat360Thursday, April 4, 2019 at 7:39 am
          • hipiggies123Friday, March 29, 2019 at 1:47 am
            I haven't read it yet but it sounds cool
            • idk what to putWednesday, March 27, 2019 at 2:59 pm
              Amazing... that dolphin looks cool, totally doing this article for my project
              • Tornado18Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at 2:34 pm
                Yes I agree dolphins are super cool!
                • sadiekane
                  sadiekaneWednesday, March 27, 2019 at 7:10 am
                  wow so cool but also they whales won't be able to have babies because of the genetics like mules can't have babies because of they're genetics but still really cool
                  • miso
                    misoTuesday, March 26, 2019 at 11:36 am
                    Amazing! That is so cool! Ligers and Wolphins, next we will have Konkeys! (money koalas!!) lol #jk
                    • gavelboy101Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at 6:41 am
                      this is so cool