The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Scientists Discover Melon-Headed Whale and Rough-Toothed Dolphin Hybrid
Researchers have spotted the first ever hybrid between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, CNN reported Tuesday.
Despite its name, the melon-headed whale actually belongs to the Delphinidae family, along with killer whales, false killer whales, two species of pilot whales and oceanic dolphins.
It is only the third confirmed hybrid within the Delphinidae family born in the wild, The Associated Press reported.
Another Delphinidae hybrid, a cross between a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin named Kekaimalu, was born at Hawaii's Sea Life Park in 1985.
"To know she has cousins out there in the ocean is an amazing thing to know," Sea Life Park curator Jeff Pawloski told The Associated Press.
Pawloski said the discovery was a testament to the "genetic diversity of the ocean."
Kekaimalu's birth popularized the portmanteau "wholphin," but researchers say that is not an accurate description for these dolphin hybrids.
"I think calling it a wholphin just confuses the situation more than it already is," researcher Robin Baird, who helped write the study announcing the discovery, told The Associated Press.
The study, published last week, details the discovery of the hybrid in August 2017 as part of the marine mammal monitoring program funded by the U.S. Navy.
The research was conducted by the Washington State non-profit Cascadia Research Collective off of the Pacific Missile Range Facility near Kauai.
Researchers tagged a pair of melon-headed whales, only the second time ever that the mammals had been satellite tagged near Kauai, and noticed that one of them had the blotchy pigmentation and sloping forehead of a rough-toothed dolphin, CNN reported.
Genetic testing confirmed it was a hybrid.
Researchers speculate that the melon-headed whale travelling with the hybrid might be its mother.
Melon-headed whales normally travel in groups of 200 to 300, but these two traveled alone and socialized with rough-toothed dolphins.
Researchers hope to confirm their hypothesis when they return to the site this summer.
"If we were lucky enough to find the pair again, we would try to get a biopsy sample of the accompanying melon-headed whale, to see whether it might be the mother of the hybrid, as well as get underwater images of the hybrid to better assess morphological differences from the parent species," Baird told CNN.
As exciting as the new discovery is, researchers were quick to point out that, even though hybrid animals can lead to the emergence of a new species, a single hybrid does not a new species make.
"There's no evidence to suggest it's leading toward anything like species formation," Baird told The Associated Press.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.