[Taxacom] Sperm whale scientific name - catodon or macrocephalus?

Tony.Rees at csiro.au Tony.Rees at csiro.au
Thu Jul 3 22:01:39 CDT 2008

Dear all,

One off-list respondent to this email suggested that I pose this question on the (closed discussion) ICZN mailing list, which I duly did. Here is an update on the responses I received:

There was a little discussion (but private opinions only). With perhaps one dissenting view, the weight of support seemed to be behind the view that macrocephalus is available and based on a previously published illustration that is demonstrably a sperm whale (that of Clusius, 1605), even if Linnaeus erred in his description in the matter of the position of the blowhole. Under this view, both catodon and macrocephalus go forward for consideration under the ICZN Code Article 24 (first reviser principle) and, accepting Holthuis' designation of first reviser, the correct name should be macrocephalus and no ruling by the ICZN is therefore required. This (so far as I can tell) is also the view in Rice (1998). It was also the principle followed by Hershkovitz (1966) although in his case, it led to a different (later) "first reviser" who happened to have selected catodon over macrocephalus, which should now be discounted.

The residual problem is that ITIS, and thus Catalogue of Life, GBIF, EoL, WoRMS etc. follow the 3rd Edition of Mammal Species of the World (MSW), which prefers the name catodon (presumably agreeing with Schevill's argument, as per references cited below). The question is then how this discrepancy of naming gets reconciled, and maybe one for which the parties on this listserver may have some suggestions and/or influence.

Regards - Tony

References cited (in chronological order):

Hershkovitz, P. (1966). Catalog of Living Whales. United States National Museum Bulletin 246:1-259.

Schevill, W.E. (1986). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature and a paradigm: the name Physeter catodon Linnaeus 1758. Marine Mammal Science 2(2): 153-157.

Holthuis, L. B. (1987). The scientific name of the sperm whale. Marine Mammal Science 3(1): 87-89.

Schevill, W.E. (1987). Reply to L. B. Holthuis "The scientific name of the sperm whale", Marine Mammal Science 3(1): 89-90.

Rice, D.W. (1998) Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Special Publication Number 4 (Wartzok D, Ed.), Lawrence, KS. USA.

Wilson, D.E., and D.M. Reeder (eds) (2005). Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed). Johns Hopkins University Press, 2,142 pp.

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Rees, Tony (CMAR, Hobart)
Sent: Thursday, 19 June 2008 5:09 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [ExternalEmail] [Taxacom] Sperm whale scientific name - catodon or macrocephalus?

Dear Taxacomers,

I've been searching to see if there is any resolution to the dispute back in 1986-7 as to whether Physeter catodon or P. macrocephalus should be the correct name for the sperm whale. ITIS, on its species page for that taxon, says:

"Physeter catodon and Physeter macrocephalus are awaiting a ruling regarding their usage by the ICZN"

However I can find no evidence that the case has ever been submitted to the ICZN for a ruling. Also, 20+ years seems a long time for this confusion to be unresolved - unless I have missed it.

Any advice appreciated (I am trying to harmonize my local databases with current practice, also keep relevant text in a Wikipedia article on the same as correct as possible).

Regards - Tony

Tony Rees
Manager, Divisional Data Centre,
CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research,
GPO Box 1538,
Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
e-mail: Tony.Rees at csiro.au
Biodiversity informatics research activities: http://www.cmar.csiro.au/datacentre/biodiversity.htm
Personal info: http://www.fishbase.org/collaborators/collaboratorsummary.cfm?id=1566

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