When the fossil of this 12 million year old whale with a terrifying set of giant jaws was uncovered the name chosen was a fitting one: Leviathan, for the Biblical sea monster, and Melvillei, for the author of the most famous whale story. And then things started to get tricky.

In response to this piece on prehistoric animals that were more badass than any dinosaur, commenter Zach Miller pointed out that the whale in the piece didn’t hold on to its name for long, and for an unusual reason:

The otherwise-excellent name Leviathan was found to be previously occupied (a junior homonym for a mastodon). Thus, a few months after Leviathan was described, the authors provided a new spelling of the genus name, Livyatan, to correct this.


In the end, the mastodon came away with the name because the mastodon had claimed it first. But, the newly named Livyatan Melvillei wasn’t left empty handed. Although the researchers did have to switch their name, the new name they chose was actually the original spelling of the name Leviathan.

Image: Livyatan Melvillei (lower) swims alongside an extinct species of Peruvian whale (upper) / Apokryltaros

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