In early August, a cetacean research team hopped into a boat and began cruising along the coast of Kauai. It was pretty much business as usual. Their job was to count and track the population of some target species, such as melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins, to learn about how the animals migrated and deployed sonar.
They spent their day gathering data, tagging animals, taking thousands of photos and collecting genetic samples where applicable, the Garden Island reports.
But then suddenly they sighted an animal that was unlike anything they had seen before. Or rather, it was a little like two animals they saw very often, but in a combination that felt very, very strange.
Their best bet? The animal was a whale-dolphin hybrid — the result of mating between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin.
The animal had the blotchy pattern and coloring of a rough-toothed dolphin and the sloping head shape of the melon-headed whale
The crew nicknamed the specimen Oreo and took a biopsy sample, which will soon determine if the animal is indeed the whale-dolphin hybrid they think it is.
A rough-toothed dolphin.
And a melon-headed whale.
Oreo is not alone in his or her unusual parentage. "Whale" and dolphin hybrids are actually common enough to garner a nickname: the wholphin.
A wholphin and bottlenose dolphin. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Wholphins normally refer to a mix of the common bottlenose dolphin and a false killer whale, but it's highly probable that the term refers to any offspring of a “whale" and a dolphin.
We say “whale" in quotation marks because the false killer whale and the melon-headed whale are both technically species of oceanic dolphins, meaning they're called whales but are really kinds of dolphins. So don't get any ideas about blue whales and porpoises getting it on — this is strictly a matter of the dolphin community.
This research only happens once a year, so the scientists will likely not see this hybrid for quite some time.