Sunday, November 28, 2010

Big-headed blower: Physeter macrocephalus

Physeter macrocephalus is the the scientific name for the sperm whale. Physeter macrocephalus was one of the four sperm whale species that Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, thought to identify, along with P. catodon, P. microps and P. tursio [1]. Now they are considered as one species. The name Physeter catodon is still used as a synonymous binomial term. Another name for sperm whale is common cachalot. The word “cachalot” is of Romanic origin and means “tooth”, reminding us that the sperm whale species belongs to the cetacean suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales). In some Romanic languages the cachalot reference is present: The French call the sperm whale grand cachalot. In Spanish and Portuguese, the name is cachalote. Italians, however, refer to the big head; Germans and Dutch people to the big size. The English name refers to the cloudy, oily body liquid, which early sailors and whalers compared with semen.

Overview of names

Binomial name: Physeter macrocephalus
Dutch: potvis
English: sperm whale
French: grand cachalot
German: Pottwal
Italian: capodoglio
Portuguese: cachalote
Spanish: cachalote

Keywords: cetology, marine mammals, taxonomy


[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; see Chapter III The Sperm Whale.

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