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A New Dolphin Species Raises Questions for Marine Scientists

Wikimedia Commons

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota contributed samples for a new study from an unusual dolphin species to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nineteen-year-old bones from clymene dolphins  have raised questions for scientists studying marine mammals. The Science journal PLOS ONE  introduced the clymene dolphin, which is a hybrid species separate that arose from two other species. The bones were found after a mass stranding in 1995 in Tarpon Springs and taken to Mote’s marine mammal bone archive.  

Gretchen Lovewell, Stranding Investigations Program Manager at Mote, said scientists don’t know exactly how many clymene dolphins there are in the world. They are found in deep tropical and subtropical waters and are so rare because they’re hybrids. Hybridization occurs when animals from different species mate.

“We don’t know a ton about these dolphins because they occur so far off-shore, so it takes observation at sea or information we can gain from stranding investigations to really understand the animals,” said Lovewell. “Hybrids happen in dolphins out in the wild, but to get to the point where it becomes its own species is what’s so unique.”

Another co-author of the journal article says hybridization that leads to a new species is rare in marine mammals. This mass stranding included 18 dolphins. They recovered 12 carcasses for Mote’s bone archive which holds more than 600 specimens from 17 species. MOTE contributes the bones and genetics to NOAA to study marine mammal evolution.