Both pigmentation and morphological characteristics suggested it may be a hybrid resulting from a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin mating, scientists explained in the new report.
The hybrid was the team's "most unusual finding", said project lead Robin Baird.
There's a new sea creature swimming in Hawaii waters, researchers with the Cascadia Research Collective recently confirmed: a whale-dolphin hybrid. But as Quanta Magazine explains, isolated occurrences of individual hybrids aren't typically considered new species, either because the hybrids can not reproduce or because lone hybrids are apt to just get reabsorbed into existing species by mating with an animal that's the same species as one of its parents.
Baird told CBS News that scientists were able to get a biopsy sample from the hybrid to confirm its unusual parentage.
In fact, both the rough-toothed dolphin and the melon-headed whale are technically both dolphins.
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The researchers named it steno bredanensis.
And, although rare, other dolphin hybrids are known, such as the offspring of a bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (also delphinidae), called a wholphin, and the offspring of a beluga whale and a narwhal, called a narluga. We've got mules and beefalos, ligers and zonkeys, after all. And, perhaps surprisingly, you might even be a hybrid yourself, considering scientists have identified slight traces of Neanderthal DNA in humans. That's because two animal species are unlikely to have the same number of chromosomes, and hybrids won't be able to reproduce if their parents are too genetically dissimilar.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more hybrids between the two species ― they do associate quite regularly", Baird said. It's for these reasons that hybrids in the plant kingdom are often more successful. This is because such genetic hybrids are often infertile, or reproduce only with great difficulty, meaning they can not produce viable offspring with their own kind.
But while the discovery is definitely cool, many news reports have jumped the gun a little bit by referring to the creature as a totally "new species".