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Ancient whale named in honour of Herman Melville

1st July 2010

A predatory whale that stalked the earth's oceans around 12 million years ago has been named after the author of Moby Dick.

The prehistoric sperm whale has been given the binomial nomenclature 'Leviathan melvillei' in honour of 19th-century author Herman Melville, who included digressions about natural history in his works.

Olivier Lambert, who works at the Natural History Museum in Paris and co-wrote the Nature paper about the discovery, said that Moby Dick made Melville the ideal candidate for providing the whale's name.

'There is a chapter about fossils. Melville even mentions some of the fossils that I studied for my PhD thesis,' he told the Associated Press.

The fossilised remains of Leviathan melvillei, which were unearthed in Peru, show the creature had 14-inch teeth and could have hunted other whales.

Last month, Leviathan author Philip Hoare called for people to fight for the conservation of whales, pointing out that many species have been hunted to the brink of extinction by mankind.

Writing in the Daily Mail, he also revealed that he swam with sperm whales - the inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick - when researching his book.

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