Scientists have made a discovery whale – beluga whale and narwal hybrid.
Whale skull DNA analysis confirmed that it was a male offspring of a feminine mother and a beluga father, researchers reported on June 20 Scientific reports.
The animal was one of three unusual whales caught in 1986 or 1987 in the Gulf of Düsseldorf, west of Greenland. The three whales were all evenly gray, and the bra were belug-like and cage-shaped tails.
The Inuit hunter who gave the skull to the researchers said he never saw such strange whales before or after, says Eline Lorenzen, evolutionary biologist and curator at the Danish National Museum at the University of Copenhagen, where the skull is located. Disco Bay is one of the few places where belugas and narwhals overlap during mating.
For decades, the old DNA analysis of the skull was "bad," Lorenzen says. Thus, he and his colleagues used techniques to analyze ancient DNA to determine that the animal had about 50-50 combinations of beluga and narwhal DNA, which makes it the first generation hybrid (SN: 11/11/17, p). There is no way to tell if the hybrid whale is fertile. The analysis of isotopes, heavier or lighter variants of certain atoms suggests that the hybrid may have different feeding patterns than either parent species.
Prior to the new study, the clearest sign that the animal was not a pure beluga, nor a full-fledged narva, came from its teeth, which were unlike both Arctic species, says whale biologist Randall Reeves, who leads a group of whales expert on the Nature Conservation Commissioner. Reeves helped describe the skull as a potential hybrid decades ago, but it was not included in the new study.
Beluga whales have 40 matching teeth. Narwhal women do not have teeth, while Narwhal men have one, sometimes two, twisted teeth that penetrate their lips and form a famous "broom". The male hybrid had forward-oriented grooved teeth, but not a long delicate tooth.
It is not clear whether pain sometimes comes on the path of Narva mating, but it is a distinctive feature that may warn a female beluga that male Narwhal is a different kind. On the other hand, women's narva have the same size and shape as female beluga, and they may be more wrong, says Reeves, based in Hudson, Canada. "Narva, a woman beluga impregnated by a man, is quite credible."
Still, mating is unusual, even shocking, to some researchers who have barely studied this kind of mix for years. Whale genus beluga and narwal branches spread about 5 million years ago – at the same time the ancestors of man and chimpanzees went differently. Also, the Lorenzen team did not detect hybridization in the last 1.5 million years of DNA in other belugas and cages so when the group presented their findings at the Beluga Research Conference held in Mystic, Conn. pin-drop when I said it was the first-generation hybrid, ”says Lorenzen. "They were so surprised."
Because people rarely observe whales in a remote Arctic city, it's hard to say whether a hybrid is a scam, says Kristin Laidre, marine mammalian biologist and Narwal expert at the University of Washington, Seattle. "I don't think it's a very common thing," or major livelihood hunting may have turned up with other samples, he says. "But I wouldn't be surprised if there were other hybrids."