Ligers, tigons, prizzly bears! Oh my! Also: False killer whales
A second generation wholphin. Photo: Mark Interrante.
Monday Reads was on hiatus yesterday in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth day.
Animal hybrids are generally not unheard of in the natural world, but they are almost always guaranteed to come with awesome names. Ligers? Zorses? Beefalo? The Toast of Botswana? (Okay, that last one is cheating a bit.)
Interspecific hybrids have also brought us the wholphin, who may sound like a Dr. Seuss-ian fantasy but is just another wonderfully named hybrid. See diagram below:
Although sightings in the wild have been reported, the wholphin made its inaugural appearance in human record books 25 years ago at Hawaii’s Sea Life Park, when a female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin shared a brief (and unexpected) dalliance with a false killer whale poolmate. Kekaimalu, the baby wholphin, diplomatically split her mother and father’s physical attributes directly down the middle, with a perfect blend of size, color, shape—and even—number of teeth: mom has 88 teeth; dad has 44 teeth; Kekaimalu has a I’m-not-playing-any-favorites 66 teeth.
Today, we heard welcome news for Kekaimalu’s paternal side of the family: the National Marine Fisheries Services announced it will finally take steps to protect false killer whales, the result of seven years of Earthjustice litigation.
False killer whales are so named due to their physical resemblance to killer whales; they actually belong to the dolphin family. In recent years, the prognosis has not been good for this branch of the wholphin family tree.
Rarely seen by humans, falses can live up to 60 years, roaming the deep tropical waters of the ocean and calving only once every six or seven years. Due to the commercial longline fishing industry, they are currently dying at twice the level than their population can sustain.
Longliners targeting swordfish and tuna trail up to 60 miles of fishing line with as many as 1,000 baited hooks. The falses (in addition to endangered sea turtles, seals, birds, and other hapless wildlife) swim right into these hooked lines, drowning or suffering lethal wounds. Read on for more details on how NMFS has at last been prodded into taking responsibility for protecting the falses. Kekaimalu (pictured below with one of her calves) would certainly be relieved.
What Was This?
As several commentators correctly pointed out last week, the mystery image likely depicted “wingprints" in the snow from a bird flying close to the ground. Head over to photographer Jettajet’s Flickr photostream for some additional context on this photo.