beaked whale


Compared to other groups of animals, there aren’t all that many mammal species. But Cetacea, the order of the whales, with its mere 80-90 species is unusually small, even by mammal standards; primates for example have almost 400 species, and the order of the rodents has about 2200! And yet, despite their small numbers, there is such an incredible diversity between the whales, from the big and mighty bowhead whale to the small and sleek harbour porpoise. Not only do the depicted species illustrate this broad diversity in shapes and sizes, they also occur in a single geographical location for at least part of their ranges.

This is a really old drawing, but I still quite like it!

Name: Ziphius, Water-Owl
Area of Origin: Medieval Europe

The Ziphius was a colossal sea beast whose face was vaguely reminiscent of an Owl’s. With its name being derived from the Greek word for ‘Swordfish’, Xiphios, the creature had a large, sharp fin on its back that was said to pierce the hulls of ships. This is in addition to its powerful owl-like beak that could do just as much damage. Along with other bizarre monsters and leviathans, the Ziphius seems to have first appeared as an illustrative embellishment on a multitude of European maps, but nevertheless became a myth unto itself with sightings of the creature being reported around the globe. Though its size was likely to have been exaggerated, the monster has its roots in a real-world animal; Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. While the Beaked Whale is much smaller and avoids ships, it is still a very frequently spotted whale and is the only member of the genus Ziphius, presumably named after the legendary creature. 

And with this guy, I’ve capped off my Alphabet Bestiary. Will be getting a small run of books made, and will post them here when everything’s all set up!

“The ocean alight”

A (generic) beaked whale comes too close to one of the many bombs humans have dropped in the ocean. It’s a real problem for them, even in modern times. In 2012 a young killer whale (L112) stranded on the BC coast, and although cause of death could not be determined with total certainty, it was suspected she died of ‘blast trauma’; sustained from an exploding bomb.

Also, if you look up navy bomb tests on YouTube (like this pretty mad example) you’ll see that the sea turns bright azure for a split second after detonation. That’s why most of the background in this painting is such a vibrant blue.


“I’ve been having these dreams…
and I’m not sure what they mean.”

(Link takes you to Ecco music. It’s swanky. And the painting was made to it.)

Good guy Nami (???)

The Signs as Cetaceans

Aries Killer Whales: You don’t mess with them.

Taurus Bowhead Whales: Their dedication (or stubbornness) makes them capable of amazing things, even breaking through sea ice at least seven inches thick with their big heads.

Gemini Belugas: They can be very sociable and are known for their gift of the gab. They can pronounce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which may sound like nonsense to us, but to fellow belugas they convey deep and important messages.

Cancer Bryde’s Whales: While swimming they tend to suddenly change direction. For no apparent reason. A bit moody. They even have irregular breathing patterns.

Leo Spinner Dolphins: They have enough energy to jump up to 3 meters height and turn seven times on their axis before plunging again and then repeating the exercise about 13 more times. They are cool and they know it. They are not aggressive. Unless they don’t like you.

Virgo Pilot Whales: They are amazing, very clever, witty, and practical. Until they decide to just mass strand themselves on the beach.

Libra Humpback Whales: Very artistic, their songs are pretty nice. They love harmony, but won’t hesitate to fight for justice, getting in the way when Killer Whales attack other mammals. Depending on the point of view, this also makes them huge party poopers.

Scorpio Sperm Whales: The most famous of them is known for wreaking havoc on a ship. Giant squid and Colossal squid are very afraid of them. Enough said.

Sagittarius Fin Whales: Also known as “the greyhounds of the sea”, their open mind and philosophical views motivate them to roam the seas (at about 40 km/h, 24 mph) in search of the meaning of life.

Capricorn Blue Whales: Very strong, fearless and somewhat stoic, they may appear a bit cold on the outside, but they are actually very gentle beings.

Aquarius Bottlenose dolphins: Smart fellows, bitchy at times, but otherwise very friendly. They can form strong bonds which may last for life.

Pisces Cuvier’s beaked whales: Very wise, they dive deeper than anyone else, they have seen things no one else has seen. But this also means they are slightly out of touch with reality.

“Familiar Strangers”

New Zealand is rich in cetacean wildlife, of all kinds. Together with the duskies, short-beaked common dolphins are perhaps the most numerous of the familiar crew. They live there year-round, roaming around the two islands, making their homes in many of the numerous bays.

Once in a while, there are visitors from Antarctica. Small, greyish coloured killer whales with enormous eyepatches and a skin full of algae. Pack ice killer whales, also known as ‘Type B’s. Sightings are few and far between, but it could be that they make this round-trip every year. They may seek New Zealand’s warmer waters to shed their skin, and lose their cast of diatoms with it, for the frigid Antarctic waters are too cold to do so. It has been confirmed that Type B killer whales in a different part of the Antarctic make such trips to South America.

And the Type B’s are not alone – Type C (Ross sea) killer whales are also sporadically seen in New Zealand waters, possibly for the same reasons. Even though human encounters are rare, it might be that these whales come by much more frequently. The resident common dolphins must see them from time to time. Every year visiting, in small numbers, silent, and not nearly as dangerous as the resident mammal-eating killer whales.

I wonder what they might think of these familiar strangers.

  • abc7la An #abc7eyewitness caught drone footage of an extremely rare whale species in Monterey Bay! @markgirardeau was aboard the Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour Saturday when he caught this unexpected sight with his drone: A pod of Baird’s beaked whales. Experts say the species tends to avoid ships, making this moment even more rare. Girardeau said they can dive to depths over 5,000 feet and stay underwater for more than an hour which makes them almost impossible to track by whale watchers. He says this is likely the first drone footage of them ever. Baird’s beaked whales are apparently only found in the North Pacific. Researchers say their range is from Japan to the Southern California/Baja area northward to the Bering Sea.

Many animals that we consider common in books and zoos were, at one time, cryptids. Cryptozoology researches the probability of animals that have been reported in stories, sightings, ancient texts, etc. The following animals are just a handful of creatures that were once considered fictional or not recognized by science.

Former cryptids:

  • Gorilla
  • Okapi
  • Platypus
  • Cuvier’s Beaked Whale ( Ziphius )
  • Komodo Dragon
  • Giant Pandas
  • Giant Squid
  • Hoan Kiem Turtle

anonymous asked:

Does the word "shellfish" annoy you since shellfish aren't fish? Does it bother you when people call orcas "killer whales" when they're dolphins? Because it bothers me even though I only have a high school level understanding of Biology I wanted to know if it was just me...

Hmm I think I used to, but now not so much, and I’ll tell you why.

Common or colloquial names vary so much within and between localities and languages that we shouldn’t expect the same kind of stringency we hold to real scientific names and groupings. The point of a name is to convey information, and in certain contexts an informal and not necessarily biologically accurate common name is suitable to convey relevant information to a wide group of people within a certain locality. Bird common names are particularly bad, for example an american blackbird is not closely related to the eurasian blackbird at all, and in addition there are about 26 (not necessarily related) species called blackbirds found in the Americas. However, if you are sitting in your garden in the UK and you hear a blackbird, you don’t need to differentiate between that and the 26 American birds to know that what you are hearing is Turdus merula. Common names are perfectly acceptable in the right context. 

Now, shellfish is a handy and historically well established culinary term for basically any edible marine invertebrate. I don’t think it would be necessary to have to start saying bivalve chowder, linguine with marine invertebrates, or decapod tempura just for the sake of scientific accuracy. The term is specific to English too - in latin based languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian etc., the same group of animals are referred to under the umbrella term of “Fruits of the Sea”. We know they are not fruits, and I’m sure (or I at least hope) that most people know that “shellfish” are not actually fish, however, as the title of my favourite podcast goes, there’s No Such Thing As A Fish - this is because the group of animals that we would call fish, is a paraphyletic group - which in terms of biological semantics, doesn’t exist.

 Basically, a paraphyletic group is a group of organisms including the latest common ancestor, but not including all descendants. Below in yellow are the groups that we would typically refer to as “fish”, however this excludes amphibians, and other land vertebrates etc., which are nested in the fish family tree. In fact, humans are more closely related to ray finned fish (such as salmon etc.) than ray finned fish are to sharks, yet the term fish removes this information. 

The proper, monophyletic groupings (ancestor and all descendants), which retains such information are displayed below for contrast, but you don’t need to say that you are going Osteichthyes-ing when you are going on a fishing trip. 

We basically use the word fish to refer to non air-breathing marine vertebrates with that share general habitats and ecologies, which is a useful word to have. For example don’t need to have a different, scientifically accurate term for overfishing for each fishy group, that would weaken the meaning of terminology for the action of overfishing, and make conservation policy and public outreach more difficult. Overfishing as a word is easy to understand, and in this context, it gets the job done, whether you are a biologist, a policy maker, a fisherman, or an average joe. 

SO scientifically, even the word fish to begin with is problematic! But such semantics aren’t necessary for everyday life, and thus the word fish still has value. It’s widespread usage is simply historical leftover from when the word fish basically meant anything living in the sea (shellfish, starfish, jellyfish) -  even the word dolphin comes from the latin for fish with a womb, which leads me onto your next example…

And guess what, there’s no such thing as a dolphin - yes, it is yet again another paraphyletic group. The common term dolphin excludes porpoises and other small toothed whales which are nested within classical dolphin groups, i.e. the superfamily, Delphinoidea. 

But, like fish, dolphin is still a handy term to refer to a specific type of cetacean, so it’s not going to stop being used. 

The important thing to remember is that all dolphins are whales. There are two major sub orders within Cetacea, the Mysticeti, or baleen whales such as humpback, blue, grey, minke etc. - i.e what we would typically think of as whales. However, there are also the Odontoceti, the toothed whales, which includes sperm whales, beaked whales, river dolphins, oceanic dolphins, porpoises, beluga whales, and narwhals. If the term whale is understood not to include dolphins then it becomes a paraphyletic group. Even though an Orca is part of the oceanic Dolphin family Delphinidae (which also includes bottle nosed dolphins, common dolphins etc.), it is still technically a whale. ADDITIONALLY the name killer whale may be due to a mistranslation of their 18th century Spanish name, asesina-ballenas which literally translates as whale killer as indeed, Orcas will hunt baleen whales. 

Anyway the point is, at the end of the day, if the right information is conveyed by a common or informal name within the context of day to day life, scientific semantics are unnecessary. Lol, following that logic to the extreme would mean that the name seahorse is wrong. Of course it would be cool if people knew more about cetacean taxonomy, or took an interest in marine invertebrates, but I don’t think that enforcing correct nomenclature is central to doing that. Most of the time these terms are simply just the name for a thing, disassociated from any greater meaning - I would still use the words shellfish in a restaurant, or the word starfish or jellyfish etc. and I am currently studying marine invertebrates!

And hey, then next time those terms come up in conversation you could always use that opportunity to crack open a few fun facts about how orcas are part of the dolphin family, and that all dolphins are whales, or that the prawn and clam on your plate are not related to each other, or to that can of tuna in your cupboard.