Scientists Confirm First Ever Beluga-Narwhal Hybrid

By Ansgar Walk – photo taken by Ansgar Walk, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

Talk about a bizarre finding: Genetics have confirmed that an animal killed by a Greenland hunter in the 1980’s was a narwhal-beluga whale hybrid, and they’ve dubbed it a “narluga.”

The animal’s skull had been sitting in a museum collection at the Natural History Museum of Denmark for nearly 3 decades before a DNA analysis could be completed.

Scientist Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen noticed the odd-looking skull on an Intuit hunter’s toolshed nearly 3 decades ago in 1990. The hunter said that he had killed the unique animal for food, along with two other similar individuals. He noted that all three of them had gray skin, flippers like a beluga, and tails like a narwhal — a very unusual combination.

Narwhals via GIPHY

The skull had 18 teeth which were all gathered towards the front of the mouth, many of them being oddly spiraled. In contrast, belugas have 36 to 40 teeth spaced evenly along each side of the jaw, and narwhals are relatively toothless with the exception of the giant tusk protruding from the head.

Belugas via GIPHY

Heidi-Jorgensen had hypothesized that the animal was a crossbreed, but nothing has been confirmed until now; he finally got a chance to analyze the DNA in 2019 with evolutionary biologist Eline Lorenzen. It turns out that the mammal was 54 per cent beluga whale and 46 per cent narwhal, with the male being born to a narwhal mother and beluga whale father.

Beluga whales and narwhals are found in similar regions of the arctic, but a hybrid like this had never been documented before. The research was published on June 20 in Scientific Reports.

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Liger. Photo by Ipatov