Dolphin Awareness Month

March is Dolphin Awareness Month and this year dolphin lovers everywhere can celebrate a confirmed new addition to the dolphin family. It has recently been proven that the Clymene dolphin is, in fact, a naturally occurring dolphin hybrid. It is a direct result of the mating between a Spinner dolphin and a Striped dolphin. This is the first confirmed Marine Mammal Hybrid whose origins have developed naturally. Each of these dolphins look completely different, thus the Clymene dolphins have distinct markings and traits taken from each side of its genetic donors.

The Clymene dolphin is a small and sleek bodied mammal that lives in the deep tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They can grow to be seven feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. Clymene dolphins have a stream lined body that allows them to move with great ease through the water and swim at a great speed. They also exhibit a three layer color pattern on their bodies. The top layer is dark gray and it runs the length of the body, followed underneath by a layer of lighter gray that goes from beak to tail. The underside of this beautiful creature is either white or pink in color. DNA analysis shows that the Clymene’s mitochondrial genome most closely resembles that of the Striped dolphin, while its nuclear genome more closely resembles the Spinner dolphin. Although it may resemble its parents, the hybrid has been classified as its own species.

Most people think of dolphins as one group or species, but this is not true. There are many types of dolphin species and they differ in significant ways. Most dolphins mate within their own species in order to keep their species’ genetic diversity intact. However, in the case of the Clymene dolphin, something compelled the two species to mate and they were able to successfully reproduce and create a whole new species. This is actually much more amazing than it sounds. Not only do Striped and Spinner dolphins look completely different, their genetic differences would be close to the equivalent of a human choosing to mate with a chimp. These differences, however, did not prevent them from mating and producing fertile hybrids.

Hybrids are not rare among plants, fish and birds but it is not very common in mammals. Usually the genetic and embryonic factors in mammals tend to prevent hybrid offspring from surviving and prevent them from being to reproduce. This is not the case in the Clymene dolphin population. It seems that the Spinner and Striped dolphin populations have been mating for years and have produced a large enough number of babies to create a noticeable new species. The hybrids are born strong and perfectly capable of reproducing. There are approximately 5,000 known Clymene dolphins along the Gulf of Mexico; however the total number of these dolphins remains undiscovered as they live in deep water and have often been mistakenly counted as a Spinner dolphin. They live in groups that range from just a few individuals up to close to 500.

The behavior of these fun and friendly dolphins allow them to live harmoniously with both the Spinner and Striped dolphins, which even cooperate with them for mutual benefits. It is not uncommon to see a mixed group of dolphins traveling together. These three species love to be extremely active and they will often leap, spin, and race through the water to play. They are also incredibly curious and are commonly seen swimming alongside boats to get a better look at us. They want to see us, but what involvement do people really have with these majestic swimmers? Other than following boats, it isn’t believed that the Clymene population has had very much interaction with humans. As they live in very deep water, it is hard to know exactly how many there are, where they are, and exactly what they do.

It is unknown exactly why the Spinner and Striped dolphins began mating with one another rather than sticking to their own individual species. Scientists believe that it is very possible that diminishing populations led them to begin mating outside their species, creating the hybrid offspring. Currently researchers are asking the question: so is this a good sign or a bad sign for our oceans?

We do know that human activities affect dolphin habitats and food supply. Pollution, hunting, climate change caused by greenhouse emissions, fishing, and habitat destruction have all had major impacts on the many dolphin populations. By destroying some of the viable options for them, we may have in turn forced them to look at other similar species in order to survive and continue. This is pretty darn smart if you think about it. There is no clear answer to currently to tell us whether this signals a good or bad turn but in truth, it is both good and bad.

It can be considered bad because all of the things humans are doing that harm these beautiful creatures can be changed. Human actions have led to the decimation in numbers of many species and it isn’t stopping. We have forced the dolphins to find ways around all the destruction.

It can in turn be considered a good thing because dolphins are finding ways to be resilient and to survive the constant barrage of damage humans do to these magnificent mammals. They are creating new ways to increase their numbers and new ways to help each other gain the vital necessities to keep them alive. These hybrids have created a species that can live in deeper water, away from so much human interaction. This alone may help them survive. We can all take part in protecting them but we have to make a conscious choice to get involved.

Written by Megan Frison

 

For additional information and information used:

Choi, Charles Q. "DNA Discovery Reveals Surprising Dolphin Origins." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 11 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.

"Clymene Dolphin Facts." Clymene Dolphin. Dolphin World, 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

"Scientists Find Rare Hybrid of Two Other Dolphin Species." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

Viegas, Jennifer. "Hybrid Dolphin: Neat Curiosity or Bad Omen?" DNews. Discovery Communications LLC, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.