DNA proves Greenland man spotted first known beluga-narwhal

DNA proves Greenland man spotted first known beluga-narwhal

DNA proves Greenland man spotted first known beluga-narwhal

"As far as we know, this is the first and only evidence in the world that these two Arctic whale species can interbreed", Eline Lorenzen, evolutionary biologist and curator at the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum of Denmark, said in a news release.

By analyzing the specimen's mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother, the team also determined that its mother was a narwhal-and, by extension, that the whale got its beluga genes from its dad.

In the 1980s, a hunter in Greenland shot and killed a strange-looking whale.

The skull of the animal was first found in 1990 by a hunter in Greenland and resided in a Danish museum for nearly two decades. They were all described in the study as having "pectoral flippers shaped like those of belugas, and a tail shaped like that of a narwhal".

The skull didn't exhibit the narwhal's characteristic horn; in fact, it was pretty different from both species.

New DNA analysis techniques have made it possible to identify befuddling animal remains.

"This whale has a freakish set of teeth", said Mikkel Skovrind, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen.

A closer look at how the skull fits into the puzzle of this rare find. The hybrid's skull was considerably larger than that of a typical beluga or narwhal, but its teeth seemed to be a freakish mish-mash of both.

Not much is known about the mating habits of belugas and narwhals, respectively, as the whales mate in the spring during the break up of sea ice. Narwhals don't have any lower teeth, but males have a signature front tooth that spirals impressively out of their lips.

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To find out for sure, Mikkel Skovrind and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Trent University in Canada extracted DNA from the skull's teeth for analysis. The bottom jaw, though, looked distinctly un-narwhal-like; it had teeth, to begin with, and they stuck out at odd angles.

In the image below, you can see skulls of a beluga whale (top), the anomalous hybrid (middle), and a narwhal (bottom).

"This whale has a weird set of teeth", said Mikkel Skovrind, a PhD student at the Natural History Museum.

It was considerably larger than that of a typical narwhal or beluga.

When the researchers behind the new report looked at the species' DNA, they found no evidence that the animals had been interbreeding over the past 1.25 million years.

The researchers found that the hybrid was 54 per cent beluga whale and 46 per cent narwhal, and the first-generation offspring of the two parent species. Narwahl-beluga hybrids are either rare, a new phenomena, or both.

That the "narluga" exists means belugas and narwhals can mate and produce viable offspring, the researchers report.

According to the results, this odd beast had a beluga whale for a dad and a narwhal for a mum, and would have forged its own path, distinct from the lifestyles of both parents.

As for the reasons behind the interbreeding, the researchers have yet to find that out, especially since it is rather hard to study both creatures' mating behaviors. But female narwhals and belugas are similar in size and shape, and could easily be mistaken for one another. Then they compared the genetic material to DNA from eight belugas and eight narwhals from the same area.

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