Friday, November 26, 2010

A big-winged New Englander: Megaptera novaeangliae

Megaptera novaeangliae is the the scientific name for the humpback whale. Philip Hoare—in search of the history of humans and whales—tells us that the humpback was given the nickname merry whale by hunters, who acknowledged the light-hearted appearance and playfulness of these marine mammals, making more gay foam and white water than any other [1].

The humpback is a baleen whale (Balaenopteridae) of the suborder Mysticeti in the order Cetacea. Humpbacks are often seen close to the coast and there are reports of river and harbour visits. They mate on the northern hemisphere in April and on the southern hemisphere in September [2]. The big wings, which gave this species its scientific name, can be seen when the giants breach by throwing more than half their bodies above the water surface.

Overview of names
Binomial name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Dutch: bultrug
English: humpback whale
French: Mégaptère
German: Buckelwal
Italian: balena gobba
Portuguese: baleia-jubarte
Spanish: ballena jorobada (see Good-bye whales!)

Certainly, the above list is incomplete since the humpback is also known in other languages. And synonyms and nicknames further enrich the lingua megaptera.


[1 ] Philip Hoare: The WhaleIn Search of the Giants of the Sea. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2010; page 25
[2] Grzimeks Tierleben Elfter BandSäugetiere 2, page 475 and 476.

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