The Naming of Things: Bottlenose Dolphins and Bottlenose Whales

This one seems a bit “on the nose” right? Ha! Yes, both Bottlenose Dolphins and Bottlenose Whales have a rostrum that looks like a bottle but since this is a nerdy blog about names let’s dig a little bit deeper.

There are two species of dolphin whose common names peg them as Bottle-nosed: the Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates) and the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). We’ve covered the common names already – they have noses that look like bottles – but as it turns out the scientific names aren’t that much more original. Tursiops comes from the writings of a Roman historian, Pliny, who referenced a fish called tursio that looked like a dolphin. Yep, you read that right. This dolphin’s genus name actually means “a fish that looks like a dolphin”. The species name truncatus may be easy for you to translate if you think about the English word “truncate.” Both mean “short” or “shorten” and this again refers to their somewhat stubby, bottle-shaped, rostrum. The Indo-Pacific Dolphin’s species name is a bit of a head scratcher though as aduncus means “bent” or “crooked” and their rostrums are anything but. At least they do swim in Indo-Pacific waters.

There are also two species of Bottlenose Whale: The Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) and the Southern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon planifrons). Thankfully the Northern Bottlenose Whales are found in the Northern hemisphere, specifically in the North Atlantic, and the Southern Bottlenose Whales are found in the Southern hemisphere, primarily in the Antarctic, but the same correctness cannot be said for their genus name. Hyperoodon means “teeth in the upper jaw” and Bottlenose Whale, as with almost all beaked Whales, don’t actually have any teeth in their upper jaw. Females don’t usually have any erupt teeth at all and males usually only have two pairs of teeth protruding from their lower jaw. The species name plaifrons comes from the Latin words “plani” and “frons” which mean “flat” and “front” and could refer to the way that the Bottlenose Whale’s rostrum looks a bit stunted. Finally, ampullatus means “flask” and so one more time we circle around to the bottle.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into the naming of dolphins and whales with noses like bottles as much as I have. You can read all our Bottlenose Dolphin stories here and, as always, you can submit your stores about any cetacean here, we would love to hear them!


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