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

Geoff Read g.read at niwa.co.nz
Tue Jul 8 21:09:00 CDT 2008

I wondered about prevailing usage. Physeter macrocephalus seems to be 'winning', at least in crude Zoological Record hits, which are 464 for macrocephalus and 162 for catodon,  for the modern period 1990-2008 to which I have online access. Some of the 162, (including the most recent of January 2008) are actually using macrocephalus as the valid name, with only 146 not mentioning it.

However,  if catodon remains senior in the online lists of GBIF etc, what will happen is that naive users will adopt it (that is most of us I guess who are not whale taxonomists).  

More generally, when the entries in WoRMS, etc, are blatantly objectively incorrect, as frequently they will be, despite spurious support from 'sources' (which may not actually agree with the entry), more confusion will result. I have just experienced this today when my usage was questioned, and I had to spend some time checking out what was going on in the WoRMS entry.

More work for taxonomists, and no, it doesn't scale. But in the whale case it seems worth the effort to resolve. 

PS. I forgot (when posting below) to except Linnaeus himself as a source - of the problem in this case.
PPS. I really appreciate both having WoRMS as a tool for my group (annelids), and the dedicated work of individuals over decades that contributed the data it uses.


>>> On 4/07/2008 at 9:53 p.m., Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk> wrote:
> Question of no doubt appalling naivety -- does it really matter which  
> name we use? Isn't the important issue that two names are in use, and  
> we know that they are synonyms? As much fun as it is to trawl through  
> ancient texts  and argue about such pressing issues as line priority  
> (so-called "intellectual grunt"), will change things much? We have a  
> wealth of information about this species, linked to two different  
> names. Will the effort expended to choose one name over the other have  
> much practical benefit (over and above what we have already by knowing  
> that the two names are synonyms). Will this effort scale across all of  
> life?
> Regards
> Rod
> On 4 Jul 2008, at 08:23, Geoff Read wrote:
>>>>> On 4/07/2008 at 3:01 p.m., <Tony.Rees at csiro.au> wrote:
>>> 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.
>> Sure Tony, this is easy, at least to know which is best to follow.  
>> ITIS and its ilk are secondary sources, just lists, no analysis.  
>> They don't make actual decisions, have no heft for me as a  
>> taxonomist (as very, very useful as summaries and guides they may  
>> be), just reflect - err ... something - perhaps another list,  
>> perhaps some person's unpublished instantaneous gut decision.  If  
>> it's worthwhile doing, always go to the primary taxonomic  
>> literature, and work it out, which it seems you've done  
>> successfully.  That's where the intellectual grunt can be seen, and  
>> the logic laid out for viewing, hopefully. I looked at the WoRMs  
>> entry for P. catodon for instance and there was no source there that  
>> seemed likely to be other than a secondary one (with all due respect  
>> to Time-Life Books). So is it a 'discrepancy' or are the list- 
>> builder guys just follow-the-leader wrong in this instance?
>> Geoff Read (suggesting only)
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> ---------------------------------------------------------
> Roderic Page
> Professor of Taxonomy
> Graham Kerr Building
> University of Glasgow
> Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

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