U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in SCIENCE, New Series, Vol. 2, No. 40 (Oct. 4, 1895), pp. 449-450.


In 1811, Illiger published a number of new genera, proposing among others, Rytina for the sea cow of Bering Island and Halicore for the dugong of the Indian Ocean. Nearly all recent writers on mammals have adopted these genera, apparently overlook ing the fact that both animals had been named before 1811. As early as 1794 Retzius described the sea cow in the 'Handlingar' of the Stockholm Academy of Science, placing it in a new genus which he called Hydrodamalis, and the species, based on the Vacca marina of Steller, Hydrodamalis stelleri. The generic description is sufficient to identify the animal even if the species and the vernacular name used by Steller had not been given. As Hydrodamalis has 17 years priority over Rytina it should be adopted as the generic name of the northern sea cow. The earliest specific name is that given by Zimmermann in 1780, and the species should stand Hydrodamalis gigas (Zimm.). The abandonment of Rytina necessitates a change in the name of the family (Rytinidæ), which may be called Hydrodamalidæ, there being no other genus in the group. Lacépède, in 1801, used Dugong as a generic name for the sirenian afterwards called Halicore by Illiger, but not being a classical word it did not come into general use. As it is the first name for the genus there seems to be no good reason for not adopting it. The specific name was first proposed by Müller in 1776, who spelled it dugon --without the final g. This was evidently not a misprint, as the same spelling occurs twice. The name for the dugong will, therefore, be Dugong dugon (Müller), while the unfortunate compound Dugongidæ becomes necessary for the family, instead of the more euphonious Halicoridæ.