Image of the Day: Hybrid Cetacean

The DNA of a whale shows its father was a beluga and its mother was a narwhal.

Jun 21, 2019
Chia-Yi Hou
Skulls of (a) a narwhal, (b) the hybrid individual analyzed in the study, and (c) a beluga
MIKKEL HØEGH POST/NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF DENMARK

From the genome of a mystery-animal’s skull found in West Greenland in 1990, scientists have identified the creature as the male offspring of a female narwhal and male beluga, they reported yesterday (June 20) in Scientific Reports. The team extracted DNA from the teeth and compared it to genomes from eight live belugas and eight live narwhals sampled from the same area in West Greenland. The authors report that the individual may have been genetically 56 percent beluga and 46 percent narwhal.

The unnamed Inuit hunter who caught this animal says he hadn’t seen such a strange whale before or since, according to Science News

“A while back, we presented our findings at a conference of 150 people who are very into belugas, and you could hear a pin drop,” says coauthor Eline Lorenzen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark to The Atlantic. “None of them were familiar with hybrids between those two species.”

M. Skovrind et al., “Hybridization between two high Arctic cetaceans confirmed by genomic analysis,” Sci Rep, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44038-0, 2019.