Canadian Journal of Zoology (1998)


A 60-cm female fetus recovered from a Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) found dead in southern British Columbia was fathered by a harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). This is the first report of a hybrid within the family Phocoenidae and one of the first well-documented cases of cetacean hybridization in the wild. In several morphological features, the hybrid were either intermediate between the parental species (e.g., vertebral count) or more similar to the harbour porpoise than the Dall’s porpoise (e.g., colour pattern, relative positioning of the flipper, dorsal fin height). The fetal colour pattern (with a clear mouth-to-flipper stripe, as is found in harbour porpoise) is similar to that reported for a fetus recovered from a Dall’s porpoise off California. Hybrid status was confirmed through genetic analysis, with species-specific repetitive DNA sequences of both harbour and Dall’s porpoise being found in the fetus. Atypically pigmented porpoises (usually traveling with and behaving like Dall’s porpoise) are regularly observed in the area around southern Vancouver Island. We suggest that these abnormally pigmented animals, as well as the previously noted fetus from California, may also represent hybridization events.