Researchers off the coast of Kauai spotted something weird in mid-July: a unusual hybrid creature that's a mix between a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale.
And while many reports have referred to the animal as a whale-dolphin hybrid, it's worth mentioning that technically, melon-headed whales are part of a scientific family of ocean dolphins called Delphinidae.
A report published last week by ocean research organisation Cascadia Research Collective concluded that a mammal spotted off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, in August past year is indeed the product of mating between a dolphin and a whale.
Project leader Robin Baird added: '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 [Delphinidae] species'.
"While hybridization can at times lead to new species, most of the time this does not happen", Cascadia researcher Robin Baird told CNN, pointing that there was only a single hybrid found this time.
'That isn't the case, although there are examples where hybridisation has resulted in a new species, ' he said.
Kimberly A Wood/Cascadia Research The hybrid is in the front, with the melon-headed whale that researchers suspect is the mother. Aww!
The hybrid was spotted spending most of its time alongside another melon-headed whale by scientists on a two-week tagging and monitoring effort.
The marine mammal monitoring program, funded by the US Navy, first spotted the animal in August 2017.
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The team was able to obtain a biopsy, using a crossbow equipped with a special dart that prevents deep penetration and returns a skin sample.
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.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said.
A mule, for instance, is a hybrid between a male donkey and a female horse.
Killer whales (Orcas) are also Delphinidae or dolphins.
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.
A likely scenario for how the hybrid came to be is a melon-headed whale getting separated from its group and ending up traveling with rough-toothed dolphins.
That hybrid, named Kekaimalu, still lives at the marine mammal park, where she helps teach children about genetics.