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May 15, 1985 was a special day at the Sea Life Park in Hawaii. On that day, one of the Park's beloved Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins gave birth. What was so special about that? Well, the baby wasn't quite what park staff were expecting. They had noticed that the expectant mother, Punahele, had been extra large in the latter stages of her pregnancy. The baby, who was given the name Kekaimalu, was not only darker than a dolphin but her snout was uncharacteristically short. When baby Kekaimalu opened its mouth another surprise awaited. Whereas an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin has 88 teeth, Kekaimalu displayed just 66 teeth. This was most definitely not your run of the mill dolphin. So, just what was it?
Kekaimalu's mother had been a star performer at the key attraction at Sea Life Park, the Whaler's Cove Show. She had, unknown to the Park staff, engaged in a torrid affair with one of her co-stars who just happened to be an 18 year old, 2000 pound false killer whale. The result of this inter species union was a new breed of sea mammal half dolphin, half whale.
Kekaimalu has inherited some distinctive features from his father, the dark coloration and greater size clearly demonstrating her whale ancestry. But she also has some very dolphin like features. Her tapered beak is but one example. When it came to the number of teeth, however, nature decided on an even split. Kekaimalu's 66 was half way between the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin's 88 and the whale's 66.
Historically hybrid offspring have not fared well in the early stages of life. The only other recorded cross between a whale and a dolphin died after only a few months of life. How would Kekaimalu fare? Fortunately, Punahele was an experienced and devoted mother. Kekaimalu grew into a strapping young lady and before long was weighing in at 650 pounds. Then in June 1990, Kekaimalu made history herself when she gave birth to her own offspring. This put doubt to the belief that hybrids are born sterile. Unfortunately, Kekaimalu's baby only lived for one week. Because she had conceived at only 5 years of age instead of the normal 8 to 10 years, it was observed that Kekaimalu was not prepared to nurse her baby.
In November, 1991, Kekaimalu gave birth for a second time. This time Park staff were ready to intervene and with their help the baby calf survived. There are now, then, two members in the wholphin population.
The wholphin is a wonderful example of how amazing the genetic and birth processes are. If you are ever in Hawaii why not check out this marvel for yourself.