Kekaimalu, the only known living hybrid of a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, or "wholphin", gave birth to a female calf on December 23, 2004 at Sea Life Park on the island of Oahu. Today, both mother and daughter, Kawili Kai, can be seen at the Park.
What is a Wholphin?
The name "wholphin" was invented in 1985 when a 6-foot dolphin and a 14-foot false killer whale mated and produced an offspring. Prior to that mating, it was not thought possible to mate the two species. Her mother, Punahele, was an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, while her father, I'anui, was a false killer whale.
False killer whales are actually members of the dolphin family and unrelated to killer whales. Males can reach 22 feet in length and weigh as much as two tons, while females are smaller, reaching 16 meters in length.
In the wild false killer whales often associate with other species of dolphins, particularly bottlenose dolphins. They are found most often in warm temperate and tropical waters around the world
Kekaimalu's and Her Calf
Kekaimalu ("from the sheltered ocean") was the name given to that original offspring who is now the mother of the new wholphin. This was the third pregnancy for Kekaimalu. Both prior offspring have died once in infancy, the other at the age of nine.
The new baby, named Kawili Kai is 3/4 dolphin and 1/4 false killer whale.
The park's training and veterinary staff spent long hours over the baby wholphin's first four months collecting data and ensuring that mom and calf were receiving the best possible care before publicly announcing its birth and development.
Very energetic and animated, the baby wholphin interacted well with her mother and trainers. Early in-water interaction with the calf was part of Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery's training program, to ensure a high level of trust between calf, mother and trainers, as well as early conditioning for voluntary medical behaviors.
Characteristics of a Wholphin
The baby wholphin displayed notable characteristics inherited from her hybrid lineage. The coloration is a perfect blend between the light gray of the bottlenose dolphin and black of the false killer whale.
For the first months, the calf relied fully on her mother's milk. She nursed intermittently throughout the day and night, with all nursing taking place underwater.
Nursing continued up to about nine months before the calf began sampling her mother's food. Only months after birth, it was the size of a one-year-old bottlenose dolphin. At a little over over one yearvof age, the calf was completely weaned.
Comments from Sea Life Park's General Manager
"We are extremely excited about the birth of the baby wholphin," said Dr. Renato Lenzi, general manager of Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery. "Mother and calf are doing very well, and we are monitoring them very closely to ensure the best care for them. Over the first 100 days of life of this calf, we had invested more than 2,400 hours of trainers and veterinary time to ensure the best care for mom and baby wholphin."
"From a scientific viewpoint, 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 that she carries in her genes," Dr. Lenzi said. "As the only living product of a wholphin, we are given a special and unique scientific and educational opportunity."
About Sea Life Park
Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery is located on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. The world-famous marine attraction offers a variety of shows, exhibits and educational programs for all ages. For more information, please call (808) 259-7933. Or for a preview of the park, visit www.sealifeparkhawaii.com.