In general, scientific names drive me nuts because they are impossible to remember, impossible to spell and rarely make sense. But I have to admit there are some great ones. Every scientific name starts with the Genus the animal belongs to followed by the name of that particular species. As I’ve become more familiar with marine mammals and whales and dolphins in particular, there are a few worth sharing. Mostly I just like the way the name sounds or what the name conjures up in my mind, which usually has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word. Here’s the list:
1. Grampus griseus: This is the scientific name for Risso’s dolphins. I love this one because Grampus sounds similar to grandpa and to me this is the perfect name for Risso’s dolphins. They start life dark gray, but scars from the teeth of fellow Risso’s dolphins and marks left by the squid they eat heal to become white. The oldest Risso’s dolphins are almost all white, just like the hair of a grandpa. This is the only way I can remember the scientific name.
2. Mesoplodon perrini: The scientific name for a Perrin’s beaked whale. All the beaked whales have really weird scientific and common names, so double bummer for them. But Mesoplodon perrini brings to mind an Italian dinosaur in great need of a pepperoni pizza.
3. Eschrichtius robustus: The classic scientific name for the gray whale. According to the Guide to Marine Mammals of the World robustus is Latin for strong. But I like this one because robustus contains the word robust and this is a great description of a gray whale. The way Eschrichtius is pronounced it sounds like strict is part of the word and gray whales are very strict when it comes to their migration schedule.
4. Orcinus orca: A marine biologist told me he loves this one because it’s the easiest one to remember and I love it for the same reason. It’s one of the few scientific names to overlap with the common name orca, also commonly referred to as killer whales. But if you can remember orca you already know the last half of the scientific name. Plus, Orcinus orca just has a nice ring to it, love the alliteration.
5. Megaptera novaeangliae: This name sounds so romantic and rolls off the tongue. It is the one scientific name I love for the meaning of the word. Megaptera is Greek for “big wing” and a fitting for describing the 15 foot long pectoral fins of humpback whales. The second word novaeangliae is Latin for New England, where the whale used to describe the species was found. This is a scientific name that makes sense on both accounts, wow.