A weird whale to identify, with musings on the subject of how avian deaths might be caused by offshore oil platforms

Can you identify this peculiar odontocete? As always, dead easy. IF you know the answer. Thanks to Markus Bühler for the image.


Oh, and while I'm here...


On a completely different topic... I was once told that numerous birds die while flying close to or over offshore oil platforms [adjacent pic from wikipedia].

Supposedly, the birds are poisoned by the vented gases, and gather in some numbers on the decks. Is this complete nonsense, or might there be some truth to it? Can you provide more information? Having looked - and, believe me, I've spent a lot of time tracking down literature on bizarre animal deaths - I've drawn a complete blank on this one. Thanks for any thoughts.

More like this

If you're a long-time Tet Zoo reader you might remember the article about giant Asian softshell turtles from November 2007. That article - which mostly focused on the several Chitra species - was colourfully titled 'The goat-eating hot water bottle turtles'. As you may recall, the 'goat-eating'…
There's no denying that Physeter macrocephalus - the Sperm whale or Great sperm whale - is a very special, very weird mammal, and (as yet) I haven't done it justice at Tet Zoo. That will be rectified in time, honest (I've been keen for years to write about the suction-feeding, and about the…
For no particular reason, here are some interesting raptor photos. Birds of many kinds often sit around with their wings only partially folded, partly hanging down at their sides; one reason for this is that they're sun-bathing and are using their wings to soak up heat. Among raptors, this…
Having written (briefly) about the turtle-like shelled placodont Henodus chelyops, it's as good a time as any to provide some more information. For starters, here's a close-up photo (kindly provided by Markus Bühler) showing one of the grooves in the left lower jaw. These gutter-like structures (…

I agree with Tai haku; that's apparently a hybrid of some sort, probably with Tursiops being the other parent. (And judging by the water the picture is taken in captivity.)

As for birds being attracted to offshore oil platforms; I thought that was pretty well described in the literature? Off the top of my head, I can recall at least one such paper (Hope Jones, 1980).


Hope Jones, P. 1980. The effect on birds of a North Sea gas flare. British Birds 73, 547-555.

I'm going to go bullshit until some data is shown for the following reason: gasses are not vented, they are flared, i.e. burned at high temperature. Even so, the major "poison" gas is H2S and this is very carefully monitored because it can kill the people on the rig.

Agreed, I'm going with wholphin.

Im pretty sure there are birds dying over and around a certain oil rig (or whats left of it) off the shore of Louisiana....

I figured it was some type of beaked whale...but a wholphin! I forgot those existed.

I'm trying to learn more about cetaceans, and recently learned about the existence of Blainville's beaked whales...now those guys look stunning.

It'd probably have been more challenging if the photo shown wasn't the same one on the Wikipedia site.

However, given how hard it can be to find actual images of these things (I still want a good up-to-date photo of those babirussa hybrid offspring, as they've grown and developed)I imagine this is understandable.

The Wholphin phenomenon is interesting because, as far as I can tell, False Killer Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins don't even seem that closely related to each other. (different genus, apparently)

It's a semi-wholphin (?), daughter of a fertile wholphin and a bottlenose, and her name is Kawili Kai.

I may not know much about zoology, but I'm pretty good with a search engine.

It is not at all unusual for birds to land on offshore oil platforms, but they are just resting. If they started dropping dead, I think the crew would be seriously alarmed.

By CherryBomb (not verified) on 30 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ok, ok... I know the pic was easy to find (if you went to the right place), but I liked it because the animal looks freaky (as hybrids so often do). Yes, Cale (comment 9), Tursiops and Pseudorca are only distant relatives - they actually belong to the distinct delphinid clades Globicephalinae and Delphininae. There's more on delphinid diversity here.

Thanks to all for other comments.

Darren, There is a large literature on seabirds being attracted and killed by lights at night.

The best paper on how this affects seabirds on oil rigs is:


Cheers Paul

By Paul Scofield (not verified) on 30 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think I'm correct in saying that all the 'wholphins' ever known are still alive in captivity, so no skeletal material available yet. It's possible that the bones from some lag x Tursiops hybrids are deposited in collections, but if so I don't think there's anything in the literature. Does anyone know?

According to the WP entry, a couple 2nd-generation hybrid calves have died; no idea if any work's been done on their skeletons.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 01 May 2010 #permalink

wholphin? I thought it was a Commersons - they look like pygmy orcas.

By Anthony Docimo (not verified) on 01 May 2010 #permalink

About birds - I think m,igrating birds are rather killed by collision with oil rig platforms, like with high buildings.

BTW, these platforms, essentially a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, sometimes attract massive "falls" of tired or disoriented migrants includng rarities. If I remember well, the first Pacific Swift Apus pacificus for Europe was caught on a platform off Britain. I also saw a pic of four (!) Little Buntings perched on a platform off Britain (LB is a rarity and even one is likely to cause a stir).

What CherryBomb and Jerzy say. For a couple of years I was out on BP's North Sea rigs and platforms periodically, and there were a lot of birds dropping by for a rest or just dropping in out of exhaustion after possibly being blown off course.

The cool part about it is that if any of the birds were poorly enough to be caught or found their way inside, some of the crews would put them aside in cages to get sent back to shore on the next chopper. :) I saw a couple of ordinary spuggies (house sparrows) who had somehow ended up out there get sent back that way.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

Miyazaki, N., Hirosaki, Y., Kinuta, T., and Omura, H. 1992.
Osteological study of a hybrid between Tursiops truncatus and
Grampus griseus. Bull. Natl. Sci. Mus. Ser. A (Zool.), 18: 79â94.

Not that I've actually seen that reference...

Good work Neil... but Grampus x Tursiops hybrids are old hat in view of Fraser (1940): we're interested in Tursiops x Pseudorca hybrids. However, I've also just learnt about Nishiwaki & Tobayama (1982). Hell, there's actually a lot to say on the subject of cetacean hybrids...

Refs - -

Fraser, F. C. 1940. Three anomalous dolphins from Blacksod Bay, Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 45 (B), 413-455.

Nishiwaki, M. & Tobayama, T. 1982. Morphological study on the hybrid between Tursiops and Pseudorca. Scientific Report of the Whales Research Institute, Tokyo 34, 109-121.

Wholphin (bottlenose x pseudo orca), I'm guilty of seeing it before. As directed to a previous comment, I don't know of any wild wholphin sightings off hand but there have been plenty of unconfirmed other dolphin hybrids. It's too late for me to look up how to spell scientific names, but bottlenose dolphins are incredibly promiscuous when it comes to other species. Spotted dolphins are often victims because they're smaller and Risso's because the two will pod together. I'm sure there's more.

Guilty of seeing the Wholphin before, but is it such a celebrity that it has its own wikipedia page?

The thing that sort of weirds me out about the wolphin is its parents are natural enemies- pseudorca predates on other dolphins. I wonder if the bottlenose in the Pseudorca wiki page is in constant mild terror while performing next to Pseudorca, or is it used to it, like a lion trainer?

Does anyone know what size (length, weight) do adult wholphins reach?

I still want a good up-to-date photo of those babirussa hybrid offspring, as they've grown and developed

The best you can get are photos of young adults:


They were euthanized in November 2008 and the above photo is one of the males post-mortem with the teeth deliberately exposed. Autopsies were performed by Danish and international experts including Alastair A. Macdonald, samples were taken for further research (they have discovered what may be an undescribed species of bacteria in the stomach), and the remains were donated to the Zoologisk Museum in Copenhagen. By late 2008 they had become young (sterile) adults, and had been subjected to a detailed study of their behavior. Without going into details, their behavior had an approximately equal number of traits from pigs and babirusas. It was judged that little, if any, new could be learned from keeping them alive. The only argument for maintaining them was as an oddity, which is against the policy of the zoo. They were of no conservation value, but still took up space that instead could be allocated to threatened species. Due to the very strict rules for transferring zoo animals to other facilities this was not possible.

I wonder how often cetaceans interbreed in the wild. I saw a doco about a group doing DNA testing on whale meat sold in Japan and one sample (IIRC) was a cross between a blue whale and a fin whale. Does that sound right?

By ambulocetacean (not verified) on 08 May 2010 #permalink