In a first, scientists have spotted a rare whale-dolphin hybrid species swimming off the coast of Hawaii, sparking interest from marine biologists around the world.
The discovery was actually made by researchers with with the Cascadia Research Collective in 2017, but the report detailing the first-ever documented offspring of a rough-toothed dolphin and the rare melon-headed whale was released this week.
They found the unusual creature swimming with a whale – which researchers guess is probably its mother – in the sea near the island of Kauai last year.
"Hybrids among different species of whales and dolphins have been previously recorded, but this is the first case of a hybrid between these two species, and only the third confirmed case (with genetics) of a wild-born hybrid between two species in the family Delphinidae," Fox News quoted project leader Robin Baird as saying.
"Such hybridisation, where the genetic data of one species is integrated into another, has long been suspected as a source of taxonomic uncertainty in dolphins, and this case lends support to that," he added.
What's also cool is that, according to the study, this is only the 3rd example of a wild-born hybrid between two dolphin species in the same family (as opposed to the same genus, which is more common). As @joshsilberg notes, this "whale-dolphin hybrid" thing is a red herring. https://t.co/CGnp6YjQjy
— Justin Gregg (@justindgregg) July 27, 2018
One of the two species involved in this hybrid is reportedly very rare in Hawaii. Melon-headed dolphins usually don't swim in these waters, so when scientists spotted one, they put satellite tags on the animal, CBS News reported. During the two-week study, scientists spotted another rare species in the waters — the pantropical spotted dolphins — which they also tagged.
The report added that Baird's team is going to be back in Kauai's waters in August, where they hope to get more pictures of the new hybrid dolphin.