Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- "No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology" - from Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
Cetology is the branch of marine mammal science that studies the scientific order cetacea, which embraces the approximately eighty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoise. The term was coined in the mid-19th century from the Latin cetus ("whale") and ology (study of). Cetological is the word used to describe that pertaining to cetology.
Cetologists, or those versed in the science of cetology, attempt to understand and explain cetacean evolutionary relationiships, geographic distribution, morphology, behavior, community dynamics, and other topics.
Cetologists have been known since classical times. Ancient Greek fishermen created an artificial notch on the dorsal fin of dolphins entangled in the nets so that they could tell them apart years later.
Approximately 2,300 years ago, Aristotle carefully took notes on cetaceans while travelling on boats with fishermen in the Aegean Sea. In his book Historia Animalium (History of animals), Aristotle was careful enough to distinguish between the baleen whales and toothed whales, a taxonomical separation still used today. He also described the Sperm Whale and the common dolphin, stating that they can live for at least 25 or 30 years -- an amazing achievement even today due to difficulties in understanding the natural life span of complex marine animals.
After Aristotle's death, much of the knowledge he had gained about cetaceans was lost, only to be re-discovered during the Renaissance.
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