HONOLULU - The world’s only known whale-dolphinhybrid has given birth to a playful female calf, officials at Sea Life Park Hawaii said Thursday.

The calf was born Dec. 23, 2004 to Kekaimalu, the only known living hybrid of a false killer whale and an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Park officials said they waited to announced the birth until now because of recent changes in ownership and operations at the park.

The as-yet-unnamed baby wholphin is one-fourth false killer whale and three--fourths Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Her slick skin is an even blend of a dolphin’s light gray and the black coloring of a false killer whale.   The calf still depends fully on her mother’s milk but sometimes snatches frozen capelin from the hands of trainers, then toys with the sardine-like fish. She is jumbo-sized compared to purebred dolphins and is already the size of a one-year-old bottlenose. “Mother and calf are doing very well.” said Dr. Renato Lenzi, general manager of Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery. “We are monitoring them very closely to ensure the best care for them.”

Although false killer whales and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are different species, they are classified within the same family by scientists. “They are not that far apart in terms of taxonomy,” said Louis Herman, a leading expert in the study of marine mammals. The wholphin birth is significant to the study of marine mammals because it shows compatibility between the two species to be much greater than was previously thought. “It’s very significant in the scientific world that they are able to reproduce because it shakes family and class information on these two species of dolphins and whales,” Lenzi said. “It’s interesting for us to observe the anatomical and behavioral development of this baby and how much she has inherited from the two different species she carries in her genes.” There have been reports of bybrids in the wild, Herman said. The park takes on the role of match-maker by placing its whales and dolphins in groups of reproductive males and females. Researchers prevent inbreeding by separating animals who are in heat, or “cycling,” from their relatives.

Kekaimalu, whose name means ‘from the peaceful ocean,” was born 19 years ago after a surprise coupling between a 14-foot, 2,000-pound false killer whale and a 6- foot, 400-pound dolphin. The animals were the leads in the park’s popular tourist water show, featured in the Adam Sandilr movie “50 First Dates.”

 Kekaimalu has given birth to two other calves. One lived for nine years and the other, born when Kekaimalu was very young, died a few days after birth. But Kekaimaiu was observed with s two male dolphins at the time of conception; however, park researchers suspect the whoiphin’s father is a 1 5-foot long Atlantic  bottlenose dolphin named Mikioi, who has not shown any behavioral changes since the birth. “He seems to be totally oblivious to this happening,” Lenzi said. False killer whales do not closely resemble killer whales. They grow to 20 feet long, weigh up to two tons and have a tapering, rounded snout that over hangs their toothed jaw. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins -   reach a maximum size of 12 feet and can weigh as much as 700 pounds.

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