Dolphin-Whale Hybrid: Rare New Species Discovered off Hawaii Coast

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A bottlenose dolphin pictured at Madrid Zoo and Aquarium. Scientists spotted a whale-dolphin hybrid off the coast of Hawaii. Jorge Sanz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Scientists have spotted a hybrid whale-dolphin off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

The animal was seen last year, but a new report from Cascadia Research Collective confirms the sea creature is the result of a whale and a dolphin mating, the team's head researcher told CBS News.

To investigate their suspicions that they encountered a hybrid, scientists took a biopsy sample from the animal to analyze its genetics. In an interview with local newspaper The Garden Island, one of the scientists said the discovery was their "most unusual finding."

"We had the photos and suspected it was a hybrid from morphological characteristics intermediate between species," researcher Robin Baird said.

The researchers told CBS News that the animal's father was a rough-toothed dolphin and the mother a melon-headed whale.

The discovery of a hybrid animal might sound surprising, but it turns out that hybridization among different species is not unheard of. Some biologists think that as many as 10 percent of animals and up to 25 percent of plants may breed with a separate species, according to the New York Times.

While several examples of human-bred animal hybrids are well known and can thrive in captivity including the zorses, the product of zebra-horse mating, and beefalo, the offspring of bison-beef cattle, naturally occurring animal hybrids are often infertile and therefore evolutionary dead ends.

When the two species are too distant genetically or carry different numbers of chromosomes, the offspring typically cannot go on to reproduce.

It's unclear if this is true for this latest hybrid animal.

Regardless, it's discovery caught scientists off guard since melon-headed whales don't typically swim in the waters off of Hawaii.

The population of these whales varies by location, ranging from about 400 individuals near the Hawaiian Islands to 45,000 whales in the eastern tropical Pacific, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The melon-headed whales are typically found in deep, tropical waters across the globe. They are social animals and often travel in groups of hundreds to over 1,000 individuals.

Rough-toothed dolphins are also known to swim in tropical and warmer temperate waters. These small members of the dolphin family typically swim in groups of 10 to 20 individuals.

According to the new report, this is the first case of these two species mating.

To continue to study the tropical Hawaiian waters, the scientists plan to return to the coast in August where they spotted the animal to continue their research.

Dolphin-Whale Hybrid: Rare New Species Discovered off Hawaii Coast | Tech & Science