One of the elusive beaked whales, the Sowerby’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens) was named for James Sowerby (1757-1822), an artist primarily known for his botany work. Sowerby examined a stranded whale in 1800 that had never been documented previously. In 1804, he published his detailed description of the species that would eventually bare his name. But in 1804 he called the animal “bidens” – the Latin bi meaning “two” and dens for “teeth” – because of the two prominent teeth that the beaked whale displays.
Today, we know that displaying two prominent teeth is a common characteristic of all the 22 beaked whales. However, in 1804, Sowerby was the very first person in the world to describe a beaked whale so the unusual facial characteristic was thought to be specific to just that species.