Mesoplodon longirostris Gray, 1873a
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|Mesoplodon longirostris Gray, 1873a
Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 1873: p. 145. (June 1873).
Common name. Strap-toothed Beaked Whale.
Current name. Mesoplodon layardii (J. Gray, 1865c) , following Perrin (2009h).
Holotype. Probably the same specimen as the holotype of Mesoplodon guentheri Krefft, 1871b , see previous account.
Type locality. Little Bay, Sydney, NSW according to Gray (1873b).
Comments. The basis and authorship of the name Mesoplodon longirostris has remained confused and is discussed in detail below. We present new insights into the origin of this name, and suggest that potentially embarrassing mistakes are possibly the reason the basis of this name has remained obscure in the literature. It is likely that Gray, who was responsible for publishing the name, was misled by photographs sent by Krefft of an inaccurately reconstructed rostrum of the damaged holotype skull of Mesoplodon guentheri Krefft , stranded at Little Bay, Sydney in 1870. The initial reconstruction by AM preparator Henry Barnes resulted in an excessively elongated rostrum but it appears that Gray published the name Mesoplodon longirostris before being alerted to the mistake.
Support for this scenario is found in a letter from Krefft to Gray dated February 11, 1873 (BMNH Library Krefft letter 258, no. 22). Krefft refers to a Mesoplodon skeleton that he had named but did not describe. Although Krefft does not mention the name longirostris in the letter, no other name applied to Mesoplodon by Krefft matches the details given in the letter. Krefft states: “The other whale skeleton which you refer to is Mesoplodon Sowerbiensis … There are only two teeth, one in each mandible and of these I must have sent you photographs [Krefft included drawings indicating that the tooth scarcely emerged from the bone] … I named this specimen without describing it which is very reprehensible, but I thought it would turn out to be a known species and save me the trouble of enlarging upon it. Van Beneden’s figure Plate XXII [= Van Beneden & Gervais, 1880 [1868–1879]) is very much like ours, there is however some difference in the shape of the skull and in the mandible … Van [Beneden] gives another figure Plate XXVI which shows only one tooth in each very similar to ours—see photograph enclosed. The head was very much broken in particular the rostral portion of it and it has been clumsily mended but I shall get it altered when there is time to do so.”
Further support stems from a newspaper account of Australian whales, in which Krefft (1873c, published in December) makes oblique remarks that resonate with his letter to Gray. Krefft writes: “ a smaller whale, of a rare genus, was stranded at Little Bay … It took Henry Barnes several days to patch the lower jaw together, and the beak being restored rather larger than the original (as was found out afterwards from Van Beneden and Gervai’s splendid book); this misrepresentation multiplied by photographs sent to scientific institutions abroad, has caused considerable confusion ever since.” Krefft provided a comprehensive list of the cetacean species recorded from Australian waters in his newspaper article but makes no mention of Mesoplodon longirostris , perhaps implying that he no longer regarded it to be a valid species.
Gray (1873a: 145; published in June) established the name Mesoplodon longirostris when he remarked that “ Mesoplodon longirostris of Krefft” was either “ Berardius hectori ” or a new species, based on a photograph of a skeleton sent by Krefft. Gray noted that the specimen appeared to have no teeth (evidently not visible in the photograph), and had a “beak” nearly twice the length of the head compared to 1.5 times the length in “Dr Hector’s figure” (presumably of “ Berardius hectori ”). In August 1873 Gray presented a paper repeating these remarks verbatim ( Gray, 1874: 89), including attribution of longirostris to Krefft but this was already outdated by his earlier remarks that longirostris was a synonym ( Gray, 1873a, published June). Hershkovitz (1966) cites Gray (1873a) as the author of longirostris . Although Gray clearly attributed authorship of the name longirostris to Krefft, attribution is to Gray, given that diagnostic criteria were proposed by him (Article 50.1, the Code).
The first publication of the name Mesoplodon longirostris , as a nomen nudum, was by Gray (1873b), published in January 1873 (publication date per Evenhuis, 2003) thus predating his paper of June establishing longirostris ( Gray 1873a) . In his January paper, Gray (1873b) concluded that the photograph sent by Krefft, on which Krefft had written “ Mesoplodon longirostris Krefft ” was the same animal stranded at Little Bay to which Krefft (1871b) had earlier applied the name “ Mesoplodon Güntheri ”. He stated that his conclusion was based on the fact that both were full skeletons (apparently rare in world collections at that time) about 18 foot long. In that paper, Gray (1873b) stated that he regarded “ longirostris Krefft ” to be an unpublished name, and regarded the photographed specimen to be “ Callidon güntheri ” — Gray (1871a) had earlier erected Callidon for the holotype of Mesoplodon guentheri , on the mistaken belief that its tooth structure differed from Mesoplodon . Although Gray (1873b) published the name longirostris as a junior synonym of Mesoplodon guentheri the name is not available (a nomen nudum) because he did not provide a description or diagnosis (Article 12.1, the Code).
Perhaps Gray did not have time to amend his publication of the name longirostris in his June paper ( Gray, 1873a) after being informed in Krefft’s letter of February, that the rostral reconstruction of the Little Bay whale was highly inaccurate.
We have not located any reference to longirostris in either the AM registers or on any specimen labels but this would not be surprising if our interpretation of the history of this name is correct.
No known copyright restrictions apply. See Agosti, D., Egloff, W., 2009. Taxonomic information exchange and copyright: the Plazi approach. BMC Research Notes 2009, 2:53 for further explanation.