Can. J. Zool. (2004)

DOI: 10.1139/z04-059


Natural hybridization occurs rarely in mammals compared with other taxonomic groups of animals. Cetaceans appear unique among mammals in exhibiting striking karyological uniformity, which suggests that they have the potential to produce hybrid offspring more readily than other mammals. However, the detection and accurate identification of wild mammalian hybrids is difficult, and molecular evidence for wild cetacean hybrids is extremely limited. Here, we present molecular and morphological evidence of frequent hybridization between free-ranging Dall’s, Phocoenoides dalli (True, 1885), and harbour, Phocoena phocoena (L., 1758), porpoises. The study describes a temporally and geographically concentrated case of natural hybridization in large mammals. Molecular analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA revealed the species identity, sex, and direction of cross of several hybrid individuals. In concert with morphological and behavioural observations, these data confirmed the hybrid status of putative crosses in the field, including reproductive females. All crosses examined had Dall’s porpoise as the maternal parent. This directionality may reflect the indiscriminate pursuit of female porpoises by male harbour porpoises. Our finding of extensive localized hybridization, despite apparently strong isolation elsewhere in their range, suggests that ecological influences on mating behaviour may be of primary importance in the reproductive isolation of these, and possibly other, cetacean species.