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What do you get when you cross a narwhal and a beluga? The newly-discovered narluga


Scientists have long theorized that an oddly-shaped skull found nearly three decades ago belonged to a narwhal-beluga hybrid, but couldn't confirm it until now

After a mysterious skull sat in a museum for almost three decades, scientists have finally used it to confirm the existence of a narwhal-beluga hybrid — the narluga.

In 1990, marine mammal scientist Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen met an Inuit hunter in Disko Bay, West Greenland, who had an unusual-looking skull on his mantelpiece. The hunter had been out hunting a few years before and came across three whale-like creatures he had never seen before, so he kept the skull of one of them as a keepsake.

He described the creature of origin as some sort of whale that was completely grey, had flippers like a beluga, but a tail like a narwhal.

Heide-Jorgensen brought the skull back to the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen and, after studying it, he suggested it might be a hybrid of a beluga and a narwhal. But there was nothing more they could do to confirm that theory, so the mystery of the skull stayed unsolved for almost 30 years.

But according to a new study published this week in Scientific Reports , scientists — led by researchers from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and including a professor from Trent University in Ontario — confirmed the skull belonged to a narluga by comparing its DNA sequence to those of its parent species.

West Greenland is one of the only areas in the world where the habitats of belugas and narwhals converge. The researchers say that the skull is currently the only known piece of evidence that narwhals and belugas can mate. According to their results, the specimen’s mother was the narwhal and its father the beluga. They believe the specimen was a male, which would suggest the narluga lacks the massive front horn of its narwhal ancestors.

The study says it’s difficult to observe and research the mating habits of these creatures, since it happens at a time when the sea ice breaks up, so not much is known about the process.

Mikkel Skovrind, one of the study’s co-authors, told the Independent that due to the narluga’s unique teeth structure it likely got its food from the seafloor — which neither of its parent species have been documented to do.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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