June 22, 2019
June 22, 2019 11:38 AM EDT
An artist's illustration of the Narwhal-Beluga hybrid whale. Markus Bühler
Scientists confirm existence of a narwhal-beluga hybrid whale (narluga) through tests on a 30-year-old skull.
The skull was originally found by a hunter in Greenland and stored at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
A comparison of skulls used to depict differences in each whale species. a) narwhal skull, b) hybrid skull found in Disko Bay, Greenland, c) beluga skull. (Mikkel Hoegh Post/Natural History Museum of Denmark) (Mikkel Høegh Post/Natural History Museum of Denmark)
In a 1993 study, researchers at the Society of Marine Mammalogy thought the skull belonged to a hybrid whale because of its unusual teeth and size.
Narwhals have only one or rarely two long spiraling tusks whereas belugas can have up to 40 pointed teeth in straight rows.
The hybrid skull had a mix of both — a set of long, spiraling and pointy teeth.
It was also larger in size than a narwhal or a beluga skull.
But at the time, lack of DNA knowledge kept the skull’s owner in the dark.
Until Thursday when a new study was published in Scientific Reports that finally uncovered the truth.
The findings proved it belonged to a hybrid offspring with a narwhal for its mother and a beluga for its father.
“Even with the absence of a tusk and different mating systems, successful mating can still occur between a male beluga and a female narwhal,” the study said.
Normally scientists have a hard time observing both narwhals and belugas during their mating season (late winter to late spring).
However, there are a few places where there is enough population of both marine animals.
Disko Bay, where the skull was discovered, is one of them.
A view of the Disko Bay located in West Greenland, where whale sightings are common. (Getty Images) Getty Images
Scientists believe this skull might be the only evidence that proves narlugas exist.
They used powdered bone samples from 18 narwhals and 18 belugas skulls and compared the skull to the DNA found from eight narwhals and eight belugas from Greenland.
And voila! A 30-year-old skull’s story makes way for a new scientific discovery.
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