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Abstract: Generally, a species is defined as an independent unit that is reproductively isolated from others. However, deviations from this definition are not uncommon. For example, cross-fertilization in pinnipeds has been reported among at least 10 species. Herein, we describe an unexpected hybridization that occurred between female gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) and male spotted seals (Phoca largha) in the presence of adult male gray seals in a mixed-species seal population under human care. To our knowledge, these are the first cases of gray and spotted seal hybrids ever reported. The three hybridized offspring had the appearance of a gray seal body and a spotted seal head. Microsatellite DNA markers were employed as genetic evidence to further support the hybridization events. Our study suggests a natural preference for interspecies hybridization between female gray seals and male spotted seals in human care. Following that, potential causes of cross-species hybridization, including female preference, male competition, and some other factors, are discussed.
Key Words: human care, gray seal, Halichoerus grypus, hybridization, spotted seal, Phoca largha
Page Numbers: 550-560