Scientists discovered whale-dolphin hybrid but won’t call it “wholphin”

The rare mix between melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin was found near Hawaii

Dolphins and whales are the two types of marine mammals one imagines as either playful rascals in one case, or giant warships roaming the deepest oceans in the other.

But can the two species mate together? The answer is not that simple.

Calling it a wholphin doesn't make any sense, one of the researchers says - Mark Interrante / Creative Commons
Calling it a wholphin doesn’t make any sense, one of the researchers says – Mark Interrante / Creative Commons

For the first time, scientists have discovered a rare hybrid of a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin during their research in the waters near Hawaii.

In a study that was published last week, the researches have stated they had spotted the animal they claim to be the first ever hybrid between the two mammals near the island of Kauai in August 2017.

But, there is a twist. Before we can call it by the prosaic term wholphin, it is necessary to explain that melon-headed whale is not technically a whale. In fact, it’s a dolphin as well.

“Calling it something like a wholphin doesn’t make any sense,” said one of the study’s authors, Robin Baird.

“I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is.”

Baird has criticised the fact that some news organisations already call the combination of melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin a new species. He said it that to make it happen, it would require other qualities to occur, namely more widespread hybridisation.

“That isn’t the case, although there are examples where hybridisation has resulted in a new species,” he said. “There’s no evidence to suggest it’s leading toward anything like species formation.”

The term wholphin originated in 1985 after Hawaii’s Sea Life Park a newly born hybrid of a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. The creature called Kekaimalu is still alive and helps children understand genetics.

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