"There's always a bigger fish." [or whale]

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 30, 2010 7:36 pm

~ Qui-Gon Jinn

123195279(Image by C.Letenneur)

New discovery, ancient whale: Meet Leviathan melvillei (Is that a great name or what?!) Ed’s got the details and you can read the full article in Nature. Spectacular!


Comments (7)

  1. Squeaky Woo Woo

    Wouldn’t mind having one of them in my fish tank.

  2. “You can have everything you want in life,if you will just help enough other people get what they want”

  3. Woody Tanaka

    “Leviathan melvillei (Is that a great name or what?!)”

    Sorry, no, not a great name, at all.

    First, it’s distractingly predictable.

    Second, the genus name suffers from the handicap of pandering to outdated religious nonsense.

    Third, the species name suffers from the handicap of pandering to the memory of a writer whose greatest work is an ode to killing the (distant) kin of this animal.

    Fourth and most importantly, this is a Peruvian fossil, a country with a rich history and vibrant present. Surely they could have come up with a name that didn’t refer to a mideastern myth and an USAian author… Are there no words in the local Amerind languages for “big whale”? That, as boring as that is, would be better than this mess.

    Fantastic animal, though.

  4. Interesting find, but the picture in the post is deceptive, as from the linked article:

    At between 13.5 and 18.5 metres in length, it was no bigger than the modern sperm whale, but it was clearly far more formidable.

    Smaller than a blue whale.

  5. Adam

    @Tom Hill: there’s no reason Leviathan’s snack in the depiction couldn’t be a juvenile.

  6. Just as a note: The name “Leviathan” is preoccupied by a name given to a mastodon. Because of thise, the name would likely have to change. So whomever is whining up there about some problems with the nomenclature, you got your wish. See http://svpow.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/is-the-new-miocen-sperm-whale-leviathan-validly-named/ for more details.

    But I cannot leave post #3 alone too long, as it pretenses so much it’s ridiculous:

    1.Scientists, especially those from the countries in which the fossils are located or whom are invited or pay to work in said country, can name their novel organisms whatever they want. The only rules for naming animals certain things restrict people from using the nomenclature for insults or otherwise provocative purposes. Anything else goes.

    2. Most scientifists use ancient (rather than modern) Greek and Latin (Latin is a dead language, in case you haven’t heard, spoken only clerically, while ancient Greek is not spoken by ANYONE). Any stricture on particular languages is out the window since taxa have been named in Navajo, Mongolian, Tamil, and even Khoisan (that language with the chirps and the clicks in it). These taxa are usually found in the regions where the languages are commonly spoken.

    3. For the sake of humopr, some people get to make funny names without any sense of “decorum,” but with real respect meant: an extinct snake from Australia named Montypythonoides, a clam named Godzilla, a dinosaur named Gojirasaurus, a shark called Gollum, another dinosaur honors various musicians, such as the Grateful Dead or Dire Straits.

    4. And you even get religious references — from other cultures and religions than the Book of Job. And note that Ahab refers to the white whale as a Leviathan, making the reference self-supporting in itself.

    5. A variety of other whales, dolphins, and even sloths, are known from the general regions of the western Peruvian deposits where this animal hails, and names like Thalassocnus and Odobenocetops come from there; these names are in wide use, and workers (in Peru, no less) use and coin them on their own.

    Yet, to each their own.

  7. Woody Tanaka

    I can’t leave post #6 alone too long, as the statements demonstrate that Jaime may have a reading comprehension problem.

    #1) “Scientists… can name their novel organisms whatever they want.” And this is appropriate to my comments how, exactly? I never said that the naming was technically incorrect, merely “not great,” as in aesthetically displeasing, in contrast to Sheril’s aesthetic approval of the name.

    #2) “Most scientifists use ancient (rather than modern) Greek and Latin… Any stricture on particular languages is out the window…” And how is this relevant to anything I posted? None of my criticisms addressed the use of an ancient language at all. My criticism has nothing to do with the use of ancient language, but has to do with a reference to an ancient supersition.

    #3) “For the sake of humopr, some people get to make funny names without any sense of ‘decorum,'” Again, how is this relevant? If referencing Herman Melville when describing a whale constituted humor (or even humopr), then perhaps a lack of “decorum” could be excused (although the objection is not based on lack of decorum, anyway). But referencing Melville isn’t humorous; it’s not even witty. It’s obvious and trite.

    #4) “And you even get religious references — from other cultures and religions than the Book of Job.” Which does not excuse the handicap of pandering to superstitions here, it merely shows that it is a wide-spread problem.

    “And note that Ahab refers to the white whale as a Leviathan, making the reference self-supporting in itself.” Which is one of the reasons why it is not a “great name,” but a lame, obvious, trite and dull one.

    #5) And what, exactly, is the relevance of names such as Thalassocnus and Odobenocetops to the discussion of whether the name chosen for this animal is great or is lame?


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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