The hybrid swims with a melon-headed whale (far end)
Kimberly A. Wood/ Cascadia Research

But you shouldn’t call it a wholphin.

By Marisa Spyker

Among the sea’s creatures, dolphins and whales are perhaps the most social of the bunch, believed to form tight-knit social groups and complex relationships. But cozying up to each other is a tad rarer, which is why scientists were fascinated by the recent discovery of a creature that’s a hybrid of the two.   

But before you start conjuring images of a Free Willy-Flipper romance, this particular tryst occurred between two different species—a rough-toothed dolphin and a melon-headed whale—both within the oceanic dolphin family, that happen to share more similarities than one might think. It’s for that reason, says researcher Robin Baird, that you shouldn’t refer to the hybrid as a “wholphin.”

"Some people are stuck on the [idea of the] whale-dolphin hybrid, but really what it is, is two different species of dolphins," Baird told Live Science.

A rough-toothed dolphin
Doug Perrine/Getty Images
A group of melon headed whales
Mark Conlin/Getty Images

Still, the discovery is a remarkable one, as it’s the only known hybrid between these two particular species, and only the third known time a dolphin and a whale have produced an offspring.

Scientists from the Cascadia Research Collective first observed the marine mammal in 2017 and were able to confirm its unique ancestry through DNA testing. The hybrid shares physical characteristics of both animals, including the whale’s dorsal fin shape and the dolphin’s sloping forehead. It’s believed that the melon-headed whale—which was traveling alongside the creature when it was first spotted—is the hybrid’s mother.

The research team will return to Kauai next week to hopefully confirm that theory, according to CNN.

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