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Scientists spot possible whale-dolphin hybrid near Kauai

August 21, 2017 - 6:51pm

LIHUE — A Hawaii research team is investigating a possible hybrid whale sighting off the Kauai island coast.

The Cascadia Research group spotted what appeared to be a cross between melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin during an 11-day field project early August, The Garden Island reported. The group was there to track the movements of target species such as melon-headed whales, rough-toothed dolphins, spotted dolphins, false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales.

Melon-head whales sightings are rare near Kauai because the population that passes through spends its time around the entire archipelago, according to Robin Baird, which led the field project.

“It was side by side with a melon-headed whale as a pair, which was strange because it’s unusual to see such a small group,” she said.

The group also found a group of about 200 melon-headed whales during their expedition.

The team was able to get a biopsy from the possible hybrid, which had a blotchy skin pattern similar to a rough-toothed dolphin and a gently sloping head shape like to that of a melon-headed whale, Baird said.

“There are no other species on Kauai that have the blotchy pattern,” she said.

With the biopsy, the team will be able to determine what species the unusual whale, which was nicknamed Oreo by the crew, belongs to. The group was also able to capture 38,000 photos and 11 genetic samples.

Because researchers are only out on the field once a year, they also rely on photos sent by ocean users to gather information, Baird said.

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