ESF Top 10 New Species list 2016

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

Two species of fish, an Anglerfish, Lasiognathus dinema, and a Seadragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea, feature in this year’s ESF Top 10 New Species list.

The list, an annual event established in 2008, is compiled by ESF’s International Institute for Species Exploration and comprises the Top 10 species from among the thousands of new species named during the previous year, selected by an international committee of taxonomists and calls attention to the fact that new discoveries are being made even as species are going extinct faster than they are being identified.

The list is published around May 23 each year to coincide with the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy.

Lasiognathus dinema Pietsch & Sutton, 2015

dinemaImage: Theodore W. Pietsch, University of Washington

Discovered during a Natural Resource Damage Assessment conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. A small deep sea species of Wolftrap angler (1,000 to 1,500 metres, around 5cms in length) with a prominent esca. Different species of anglerfish can be distinguished visually by the details of a structure called an esca (Latin, food, bait) that projects over their heads like a fishing rod and is believed to act as a lure to attract prey. This organ is located at the tip of a highly modified, elongated dorsal ray, in some species the esca is home to symbiotic bacteria that are bioluminescent, producing light (a rare commodity in the depths of the ocean) and is presumed to aid in the attraction of prey.


Lasiognathus – Greek, Lasio-, lasios ασιος) , shaggy, wooly, hairy; -gnathus, gnathos (γναθος), jaw. Alluding to the huge number of long teeth of the upper jaw

dinema – Greek, di- (δι), two; -nema, nhma (νημα), that which is spun, thread, filament; referring to two thread-like prolongations arising from base of escal hooks.

Phyllopteryx dewysea Stiller, Wilson, & Rouse, 2015 – Ruby seadragon

ruby seadragon Image: Western Australian Museum

Only the third known species of seadragon, and the first to be discovered in 150 years, possibly because it lives in slightly deeper waters than its relatives. A relatively large species, around 24 cms in length, it has rarely been previously encountered; the coloration suggests it lives in deeper waters than other seadragons since red shading would be absorbed at depth, effectively serving as camouflage.


Phyllopteryx – Greek, Phyllo, phyhllon (φυλλον), leaf; -pteryx, pteruc (πτερυξ), wing, fin. Alluding to the small leaf-like appendages of the first named member of the genus, the Common or Weedy Seadragon.

dewysea – Latinized name, honouring, “… Mary ‘Dewy’ Lowe, for her love of the sea and her support of seadragon conservation and research, without which this new species would not have been discovered.” Of the Lowe Family Foundation.

Ref. A spectacular new species of seadragon (Syngnathidae) Josefin Stiller, Nerida G. Wilson, Greg W. Rouse. Royal Society Open Science 2015

Minke whale

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

Minke whale

8th May – A Minke whale has washed up on the beach near Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, England, in the vicinity of the Sea View car park. The whale, variously described as being 4 or 5 metres long and estimated to weigh up to two tonnes, is the sixth whale to wash up on the east coast of England in three months (see: Sperm whale).

minke2Image: Mablethorpe Coastguard

The Minke whale is the smallest of the baleen whales found in UK waters, measuring 7 to 10 metres when fully grown, females usually slightly longer than males, and weighing up to 9,200 kg. The body is slender and streamlined, the head narrow and pointed. They have a small sickle shaped dorsal fin positioned about two-thirds of the way down the back, this can be used as a unique feature to identify individual animals. The dorsal fin and back are dark grey or black, the belly bright white, and there is a distinctive white band on the upper side of each pectoral fin.

Minke_Whale_(NOAA)Image: NOAA

Minke whales are generally a solitary species with a lifespan estimated at around 40 to 50 years. They have a wide distribution and are found from the tropics to the ice edges in the northern hemisphere, although their annual movement patterns are not fully understood but they are thought to make a general migration between tropical breeding grounds in the winter, and colder feeding regions during the summer.

Balaenoptera acutorostrata Lacepede, 1804 – Common minke whale


Balaenoptera – Latin, Balaen-, balaena, a whale; -o-, connective vowel; -ptera, Greek, pteron, wing, fin. Alluding to the to the long wing-like pectoral fins generally characteristic of the genus.

acutorostrata – Latin, acut-, acutus, sharpened, pointed, sharp, cutting; -o-, connective vowel; -rostrata, rostratus, having a beak, hooked, with a crooked point, beaked, with a curved front. Alluding to the shape of the head.

Common name etymology.

The name Minke is said to have derived from one of whaler Svend Foyn’s crew by the name of Meincke (likely a novice), who mistook a school of these whales for blue whales. Whalers all over the world considered this incident so amusing that they used his name as a household word to describe this species.

Ref. J. N.  Tønnessen & A. O. Johnsen, “The History of Modern Whaling” (transl. R.I. Christophersen), 1982

Dwarf sperm whale

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

Dwarf sperm whale

1st May – A 2.42-metre whale, believed to be a rare dwarf sperm whale, died after being stranded at Lake Tyers beach, Victoria, Australia, a species never previously seen in the state.

Dwarf sperm whaleImage: Victorian water, environment, land and planning department.

The Dwarf sperm whale is one of three extant species in the sperm whale family along with the similar sized and more common Pygmy sperm whale and the much larger Sperm whale, and is the smallest species commonly known as a whale, growing up to 2.7 metres in length and weighing up to 250 kilograms, making it smaller than the larger species of dolphin.

An inconspicuous species that is rarely sighted at sea, most information about the them coming from the study of stranded carcasses. The dwarf sperm whale is thought to be widely distributed in tropical and temperate zones of all the world’s oceans, mostly living in deep water and believed to concentrate around the edge of the continental shelf.

220px-Kogia_simaImage: © Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0

One curious feature of Dwarf sperm whales, and the related Pygmy sperm whales, is that they are unique among cetaceans in using a form of “ink” to evade predation in a manner similar to squid. Both species have a sac in the lower portion of their intestinal tract that contains up to 12 litres of dark reddish-brown fluid, which can be ejected to confuse or discourage potential predators.

Kogia sima Owen, 1866 Dwarf sperm whale


Kogia – Etymology uncertain; possibilities include a reference to a Cogia Effendi, a Turkish naturalist who observed whales in the Mediterranean Sea in the early 1800s, a latinized form of “codger” (although this may be back-formed from Kogia), or maybe a meaningless or nonsense word.

sima – Latin, simus, flat-nosed, snub-nosed – named, “… in reference to its peculiarly short obtuse muzzle.”

Ref. Owen, R. (1866). On some Indian Cetacea collected by Walter Elliot, Esq. Transactions of the Zoological Society, London.