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Creation 41(4):19, October 2019

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The surprising ‘belwhal’

DNA reveals beluga-narwhal hybrid

by

Hybrid-belwhal-lge
Hybrid ‘belwhal’

Three unusual-looking whales were caught in Greenland by Inuit hunters in the late 1980s—unlike any the Inuit had ever seen. Each was an even grey colour, with flippers like those of belugas, and tails like those of narwhals.

One of their skulls was preserved; a DNA study has now identified it as a first-generation hybrid between a male beluga and a female narwhal—a ‘belwhal’. (Some articles say ‘narluga’, but conventionally the paternal ‘tag’ goes first.) Evolutionary biologist Eline Lorenzen called it “the first and only evidence in the world that these two Arctic whale species can interbreed.”

The distinctive white beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) and the dark mottled grey narwhal (Monodon monoceros) are the only living members of the Monodontidae whale family. Though similar-sized at 4–5.5 m (13–18 ft) long, and inhabiting the same area, they are different enough to be placed in two different genera (plural of genus).

Belugas can have up to 40 teeth, whereas no teeth erupt in narwhals apart from the unusual upper left canine (mostly only in males). This enlarged tooth pierces out through the upper lip. It looks like a spiral ‘tusk’ growing up to 2.5 m (8 ft) long; these were once sold as ‘unicorn horns’. On rare occasions, the corresponding right tooth also erupts to form a second tusk. The tusks are thought to form due to a degenerative mutation.

The hybrid’s teeth were unusual; many “stuck out horizontally, and some even had spirals that turned in the same direction as a narwhal’s tusk.”

Interbreeding

Skull-morphology
Skull morphology of (a) beluga,(b) hybrid, and (c) narwhal.

Evolutionists believe that beluga and narwhal family branches split about 5 million years ago (MYA), and that “gene flow between belugas and narwhals ceased between 1.25 and 1.65 MYA.”1 I.e. the two are thought to have been evolving independently of each other for more than a million years.

So when the astonishing (to evolutionists) findings were presented to a conference in Connecticut, Lorenzen said, “You could hear a pin drop when we said it was a first-generation hybrid; they were so surprised.” After all, millions of years of mutations ought to have made them mutually infertile; after all, evolutionists claim that humans and chimps split at the same time. However, this comes as no surprise to biblical creationists who recognize that the split in monodontids happened only a few thousand years ago.

Created kinds gave rise to many varieties

Also, both before and after Darwin, biblical creationists recognized that the created kind (baramin) had given rise to different ‘species’ and often even to different ‘genera’. By definition, since belugas and narwhals can interbreed, they must be descended from the same created kind (perhaps a monodontid kind), created on Day 5 of Creation Week, a little over 6,000 years ago. (Note that creatures that can’t interbreed are not necessarily from different kinds; even some human couples are infertile for various reasons.)

New varieties, species, and genera have often arisen from the descendants of the original Genesis kinds—without any ‘evolution’ being involved. E.g., lions, tigers, jaguars, sabre-toothed cats, domestic cats, etc. are all from the same ‘cat kind’. This is why, e.g., lions and tigers can still interbreed to give ligers and tigons.

The diversity has arisen without any significant addition of new DNA information, rather its loss. Virtually all the information required was in that original population. As more species arise and ‘branch off’ over the years, each has less and less potential to vary further. Despite the impressive-seeming amount of variety achieved, such a process can never transform one kind into a totally different kind. This is why, starting with any modern domestic cat breed, one could no longer breed cats the size of tigers.

The Narwhal’s tusk

This ‘tusk’, richly supplied with nerve tissue like all teeth, is used as a sensory organ. Creationist researcher Jean Lightner suggests it is nonetheless likely the result of mutational degeneration; there is no modification in the upper lip to allow for the tusk to pierce it.1 Since belugas and narwhals are clearly the same kind, and the tusk is unknown in the other (extinct) whales in that family, this further suggests it was not a part of the design information in the original created kind.

Note

  1. See creation.com/the-enigmatic-narwhal.

References and notes

  1. Skovrind, M. et al., Hybridization between two high Arctic cetaceans confirmed by genomic analysis, Scientific Reports 9(7729), Jun 2019. Return to text.
  2. Cockburn, H., Hybrid ‘narluga’ whale discovered by scientists in the Arctic, independent.co.uk, 21 Jun 2019. Return to text.
  3. See creation.com/the-enigmatic-narwhal. Return to text.
  4. Yong, E., Narlugas are real, theatlantic.com, 20 Jun 2019. Return to text.
  5. Saey, T.H., DNA confirms a weird Greenland whale was a narwhal-beluga hybrid, sciencenews.org, 20 Jun 2019. Return to text.
  6. Catchpoole, D., Cats big and small Creation 37(4):34–37, 2015; creation.com/cats. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Alf F.
Thanks Phil, I read the article related article, but I'm still not convinced that an entire species defined by a functional tusk (also used in attack and defence), the absence of which is the exception to the rule, should be considered mutational.
Alf F.
The Belwhals were viable and grew to adulthood, presumably, but if there are any more out there they are too scarce to count. Such anomalies are always scarce, so my point is this: We know that God is a Master Designer, and like "junk" DNA, and the appendix, I feel instinctively that the Narwhal's tusk is designed and functional. Why the rush to a negative speculation? The tusk is straight, evenly spiralled, supplied with nerve and at times matched by a corresponding symmetrical dextral dentition. There are parallels in the elephant world and other creatures: perhaps the absence of the right tusk is the real degenerative mutation? The lip issue doesn't seem to bother the Narwhal, why should it bother us? I would expect that mutations of such size and character, if indeed they were mutations and not functional design, would be rather rare and unsustainable, and certainly therefore not a defining characteristic of a species.
Phil Robinson
Thanks for the comment. Please see read the related article: The enigmatic narwhal, for a fuller explanation as to why the tusk is likely a degenerative mutation.
John C.
Very interesting, Philip! I couldn't help but notice that, were it not for the knowledge that these skulls were contemporary, an evolutionist would swear they were a progressive series, a to b to c, just as they are ordered in the article. How many other so-called 'series' or sequences in the fossil record are actually this type of hybrid relation? Fascinating, in the words of a science fiction hybrid!
Jim W.
Internal organs may be placed asymmetrically as part of design? eg rumen, spleen, heart, appendix, liver.
Phil Robinson
Hi Jim, I don't think anyone disagrees with you on your point. All of the organs that you have mentioned above are incredibly well designed, and fit perfectly where God has placed them in the body. However, specifically in relation to the narwhal tusk, while the majority of them are asymmetrical, there are rare occasions when it is symmetrical with another tusk breaching the lip (where there is no designed exit point) from the corresponding upper right canine. There are even very rare examples of this occurring in female narwhals. As discussed earlier please see the related articles for a fuller discussion of the status of the tusk as a degenerative mutation. Every blessing, Phil

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