NEW BREEDS Hybridization examples include a zorse (zebra-horse) named Eclyse.
On May 15, 1985, trainers at Hawaii Sea Life Park were stunned when a 400- pound gray female bottlenose dolphin named Punahele gave birth to a dark-skinned calf that partly resembled the 2,000-pound male false killer whale with whom she shared a pool. The calf was a wholphin, a hybrid that was intermediate to its parents in some characteristics, like having 66 teeth compared with the bottlenose’s 44 and the 88 of the false killer whale, a much larger member of the dolphin family.
A male liger (lion-tiger) named Bahier.
A wholphin (dolphin-false killer whale) named Kekaimalu.
In 2006, a hunter in the Canadian Arctic shot a bear that had white fur like a polar bear’s but had brown patches, long claws and a hump like a grizzly bear’s. DNA analysis confirmed the animal was a hybrid of the two species.
While one might think that these oddities are examples of some kind of moral breakdown in the animal kingdom, it turns out that hybridization among distinct species is not so rare. Some biologists estimate that as many as 10 percent of animal species and up to 25 percent of plant species may occasionally breed with another species. The more important issue is not whether such liaisons occasionally produce offspring, but the vitality of the hybrid and whether two species might combine to give rise to a third, distinct species.
While several examples of human-bred animal hybrids are well known and can thrive in captivity including zorses (zebra-horse), beefalo (bison-beef cattle) and, of course, mules (donkey-horse), naturally occurring animal hybrids have many factors working against their longer-term success.
One of the main obstacles is that, even if members of different species might mate, when the two species are too distant genetically or carry different numbers of chromosomes, the offspring are usually inviable or infertile (like zorses and mules), and are therefore evolutionary dead ends. A second problem is that any hybrid will usually be vastly outnumbered and outcompeted by one or both parent species.