Mysterious Whale-Dolphin Hybrid Found in Hawaii

A rare dolphin-whale hybrid is swimming in the waters of Hawaii. Marine researcher Dr. Robin Baird**, of the non-profit Cascadia Research Collective, told The Garden Isle this hybrid is a “most unusual finding”. The hybrid has been given the scientific name steno bredanensis by the researchers.

Some reports have been calling the hybrid a “wholphin,” but this is wrong. Why? Glad you asked! While the species appears to be part melon-headed whale and part rough-toothed dolphin, the fact is, a melon-headed whale is actually part of the dolphin family, not the whale family. In other words, as Baird told LiveScience, “Some people are stuck on the [idea of the] whale-dolphin hybrid, but really what it is, is two different species of dolphins.” This explains how the two dolphins were able to actually mate in the first place.

Left: Rough-toothed dolphins; Right: Melon-headed whales

Obviously, the lead story here is of the of the hybrid dolphin, but equally odd is the spotting of the presumed mother of the hybrid, the melon-headed whale (a DNA sampling confirmed the mother is a whale), living with a pod of rough-toothed dolphins. One of these dolphins is the presumed father. The melon-headed whale has essentially become part of the dolphin pod. Baird and team hope to study not just the hybrid more closely, but also the whale living in the dolphin pod. By studying the whale, they hope to confirm she is the mother.

It’s currently unknown whether the hybrid can produce offspring. If the hybrid can produce offspring, then it’s possible it can become a new species. But until the research is complete, it’s assumed the hybrid is a one-off anomaly.

There are only about 200-300 melon-headed whales in the waters surrounding Hawaii. Though extremely, rare, we’ve been lucky enough to spot them on our Whale Watch tours and our Lana’i Snorkel and Dolphin Tour.

Book a Snorkel and Dolphin tour with Hawaii Ocean Project and save $10 by following this special link.

** Dr. Robin Baird is one of four oceanic researchers we proudly support with our 100% Research Direct program.