About the
Humpback Whale Skeleton

Written by Henry Galiano

Humpback Whale SkeletonThis colossal whale skeleton is both scientifically important and historically noteworthy. It also has the distinction to have been studied and published by the famous American palaeontologist Dr. Edward Drinker Cope. In addition it was on exhibit at the Niagara Falls Museum, one of North America's oldest museums. It's scientific importance lies in its status as the Holotype specimen of the species Megaptera osphyia, which was established by Cope in 1885. Cope believed that this specimen represented a distinct species of hump-backed whale. Since Cope's time, biologist have determined that only one species of hump-backed whale exists living today, and its proper taxonomic name is Megaptera novaeangliae. Thus, Cope's Megaptera "osphyia" under the rules in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, has been declared invalid and has fallen into synonymy under the senior name Megaptera novaeangliae. Briefly, Taxonomy is the scientific study of identifying species under their proper proposed name. It is common in this complex study for changes to names to occur. Often old names are resurrected and new ones deemed invalid. It is critical for every species named that a specimen be designated as the bearer of its scientific name in order to aid future research and comparison. Therefore, Cope's holotype specimen, status notwithstanding, is a scientifically valued item which, should be preserved and housed in an institution which will allow researchers access to it. More detail information on Cope's hump-backed whale skeleton is published by the Smithsonian Institute in a treatise written by Dr. Frederick W. True, 1904 , titled "The Whalebone Whales of the Western North Atlantic". An interesting footnote in scientific taxonomy can be included here. Dr. Edward D. Cope's actual skull was recently accepted as the type specimen (Lectotype) for our own species Homo sapiens by The noted Paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker in 1994. After describing and naming hundreds of fossil and living species, Cope wished that after his death that his body be used as the type specimen for our species, knowing that one was never chosen to represent Homo sapiens. The hump-backed whale to which the skeleton belonged to had been found dead, floating 40 miles off Petit Manan, Maine in July 1844. Records are conflicting as to who found it. Both Captain Taylor and Captain J. Bickford of the Fulton ship have been mentioned as possibilities. The 50 foot decomposing whale was landed at Birch Harbor. Dr. F. D. Thurman of Atlanta, Georgia originally sold this magnificent specimen to P.T. Barnum in New York in the late 1860's during the Civil War. But due to a fire that destroyed his museum, he was unable to take delivery and it was then resold to Thomas Barnett the founder of the Niagara Falls Museum in 1873 and has been on exhibit since 1999. Up until then it had impressed millions of visitors to the Falls.

For more articles on the humpback whale, please visit our Articles page or see some great photos of the whale skeleton.



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