Photo by Mark Interrante
Dolphins and other marine mammals are among the most beloved creatures of the sea. It could be because we, as humans, are mammals, so we feel a special kinship to these oxygen dependant, thinking/feeling and magnificent animals. We are most familiar with the large whales, killer whales and bottlenose dolphins because they dominate marine conservation efforts and sea life shows around the world. What many of us are likely not familiar with is possibly the most rare hybrid marine mammal in the world–the wholphin. This creature, as you may have guessed from its name, is a cross between a false killer whale and a dolphin.
The only known full wholphin specimen is a cross between a male false killer whale and a female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. The wholphin is a fertile female named Keikaimalu born in 1985. She lives at Sea Life Park in Oahu. Examples of differences from her parent species that she possesses are her coloring and her teeth. She is darker than her mother is. Keikaimalu also has fewer teeth than her mother does and more teeth than her father does - 66 to be exact. It is uncertain if this would be the case for all 50/50 (50% dolphin and 50% false killer whale) wholphins, as there has not been enough study on this hybrid species.
Keikaimalu has successfully reproduced three times in her lifetime - which can reach between 40 and 60 years, if she is anything like her parent species in that regard. Her first calf only lived a few days. Her second calf lived nine years. While nine years is better than a few days, this wholphin's lifetime was much shorter than that of her mother, the average bottlenose dolphin and the average false killer whale. It is unclear if these two calves' hybrid parentage had anything to do with their abnormally short lives. The third time Keikaimalu birthed a calf was in 2005. This wholphin is a female whose father is a bottlenose dolphin. Her name is Kawili'Kai. As of 2010, she is still alive and well at Sea Life Park.
Kawili'Kai is not a 50/50 wholphin like her mother, as she is only 50% wholphin or 25% false killer whale and 75% bottlenose dolphin. Kawili'Kai's most false killer whale trait is her size. She weighs more than an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. She is also dark like her mother.
It is believed that there are wholphins in the wild, though none of them have had their DNA tested, which is the only true way to say if a creature is a wholphin. They are not dissimilar enough in appearance to be conclusively proved a wholphin by a picture or sighting. Nonetheless, their two parent species are capable of breeding and have the same range and habitat. Therefore, it is certainly possible. Keikaimalu may be the only 50/50 wholphin specimen in the world and her daughter may be the only offspring of a wholphin, but there is no way to be sure. For now, we must assume that she is one of a kind. At least, she is exceedingly rare.
Wholphin Pictures, retrieved 1/7/11, seapics.com/feature-subject/dolphin-and-porpoise/wholphin-pictures.html
Wholphin Store, retrieved 1/7/11, sealifeparkhawaii.com