Researchers identify hybrid pilot whale off Spanish coast

Nov 05, 2013
Researchers identify hybrid pilot whale off Spanish coast
Credit: Shutterstock

A European project has recorded the first ever documented hybridisation - offspring resulting from cross-breeding - between species of cetaceans, an order of marine mammals that include whales, dolphins and porpoises. The discovery could further our understanding of these mammals' habits and behaviour, and whether their living patterns and migratory instincts are changing.

With the help of funding from the Severo Ochoa Programme, researchers were able to confirm the existence of fertile offspring of common pilot whales and tropical pilot whales. The team are currently trying to determine the origin of the hybridisation between both species of , and to identify their geographical range.

Pilot whales are average-sized cetaceans that appear relatively frequently along Europe's coastline. The common pilot whale typically lives in the cold waters off northern Europe, while the tropical pilot whale lives in the warmer waters surrounding northern Africa.

One of the few places that these two species meet is off the Spanish coast, where the cold north Atlantic waters meet warmer waters from the south. While some scientists have speculated some form of hybridisation has been going on, proof has been elusive.

This is why researchers at the Department of Genetics of the University of Oviedo got together with the Project of Marine Mammals of the Spanish Institute of Oceanographics (IEO). The team began by examining genetic samples from animals in different parts of the sea: off the coast of the Faroe Islands, Galicia and the Canary Islands.

Researcher Laura Millares also completed an international research stay at the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l'Environnement (CRIOBE) in French Polynesia, to widen the number of samples.

By using the latest genetic analysis techniques, they were able to unequivocally determine that a hybrid species of pilot whale was thriving off the Spanish coast. They identified a hybrid adult individual, whose mother was a common pilot whale and its father a tropical pilot whale. This is the first time ever that the existence of a fertile hybrid of these two species has been described genetically.

Researchers will now try to explain the origin of the hybridisation between the two and the reason for the geographical distribution.

The Severo Ochoa Centres of Excellence is a programme that aims to promote excellence in scientific research in Spain. It seeks to boost research activities taking place in specific institutional and organisational environments in which a scientific community works closely together to achieve common objectives. It also aims to promote international collaboration.

Explore further: Porpoises on European coasts maintain their populations but migrate southwards

More information: www.uniovi.es/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ninety whales stranded on New Zealand beach

Jan 23, 2012

A pod of 90 pilot whales have beached themselves at the top of New Zealand's South island, in the same area where seven whales died in a mass stranding earlier this month, according to officials.

24 pilot whales die in New Zealand stranding

Jan 21, 2011

(AP) -- New Zealand conservation officials on Friday euthanized 10 pilot whales, the only survivors of a 24-strong pod that became stranded in a mangrove swamp.

80 pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach

Sep 22, 2010

(AP) -- At least 40 out of 80 pilot whales that stranded themselves on a remote northern New Zealand beach have died, and more whales are joining them on land, officials said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Genome yields insights into golden eagle vision, smell

10 hours ago

Purdue and West Virginia University researchers are the first to sequence the genome of the golden eagle, providing a bird's-eye view of eagle features that could lead to more effective conservation strategies.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Koolokamba
5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2013
There's a mistake in the top of this story ("A European project has recorded the first ever documented hybridisation - offspring resulting from cross-breeding - between species of cetaceans, an order of marine mammals that include whales, dolphins and porpoises.")

It is by no means the first documented case of hybridization between cetaceans. Lots of other cetacean hybrids are known. See: http://www.macroe...ids.html , http://www.macroe...ids.html and http://www.macroe...ids.html

Sorry.

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...

Cell resiliency surprises scientists

New research shows that cells are more resilient in taking care of their DNA than scientists originally thought. Even when missing critical components, cells can adapt and make copies of their DNA in an alternative ...