Marine Mammal Taxonomy
Learn how scientific classification enables scientists to categorize and name plants and animals.
What is scientific classification?
Scientific classification is how scientists categorize and name plants and animals.
Why do we need scientific classification?
In order to effectively study plants and animals, all scientists need to use the same names. Using the same names keeps scientists from getting confused about what species is being referred to. Our current day classification system was created by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeaus in 1757. This is what we refer to as taxonomy, which today has eight ranks from general to specific: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.
What is the Linnaean taxonomic system?
The Linnaean taxonomic system is quite useful as a classification system. Not only does it provide official names for every plant and animal, it also helps scientists understand how objects are related to one another. The Linnaean system is based on a series of nested categories. Each Linnaean name is based on Latin and Greek root words which are often difficult to pronounce.
People that are not scientists use common names. For example, the blue whale is known by two names. Most people call them by their common name, blue whale, while scientists use the scientific name, Balaenoptera musculus. The scientific name of each species is made up of a genus name (Balaenoptera) and a specific species name (musculus).
How does taxonomy relate to marine mammals?
Marine mammals are animals that are warm-blooded with back bones that live in water. This information can also be discovered by looking at marine mammal taxonomic classifications. These classifications allow people to better understand how marine mammals are related to other animals.
The example below explains the taxonomy for blue whales.
Whales belong to the kingdom Animalia because whales have many cells, ingest food, and are formed from a "blastula" (from a fertilized egg).
An animal from the phylum Chordata has a spinal cord and gill pouches.
Whales and other mammals are warm blooded, have glands to provide milk for their off-spring, and have a four-chambered heart.
Cetaceans are mammals that live completely in the water.
Whales that belong to the suborder Mysticeti have baleen plates (big filters in their mouths) rather than teeth.
The family Balaenidae are also known as rorqual whales. They have pleats around their throat that allow them to hold thousands of gallons of water (which contains their food).
A genus is a group of species that are more closely related to one another than any group in the family. Balaenoptera refers to the genus.
A species is a grouping of individuals that interbreed successfully. The blue whale species name is musculus.