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A modest proposal: Twitter, meet your new mascot

Why the giant prehistoric whale with 14-inch-long teeth is a far better illustration of the microblogging site's problems than its current cuddly cartoon cetacean.

Artistic view of the giant raptorial sperm whale Leviathan melvillei attacking a medium-size baleen whale off the coast of the area now occupied by Peru.
C. Letenneur (MNHN) and Nature

This week we've seen a lot of the "fail whale," the cartoon cetacean that Twitter uses as a placeholder when its servers are swamped and its millions of tweets are inaccessible. Part of it's because, as Twitter has said, they've needed to do some crucial infrastructure repair this summer. That hasn't been made any easier by the global frenzy surrounding the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa: World Cup goals are delivering knockout blows to Twitter, and surprise results of games can be even worse. Right around the Netherlands' unexpected victory over Brazil on Friday, Twitter once again collapsed.

Twitter, your cuddly "fail whale" is simply not doing you justice. But it's your lucky day--OK, maybe not as lucky as the day when you signed the papers that got you $100 million in venture capital and a billion-dollar valuation--because I've found you a new mascot!

Meet Leviathan melvillei, a really big scary whale that terrorized the oceans in the Miocene period, about 12 million years ago. It's named for "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville, a writer who would have scoffed at the idea of keeping things 140 characters long. ("Moby Dick" is 135 chapters long.) L. melvillei, whose discovery was announced this week in the academic journal Nature, was about 60 feet long--roughly the same length as a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), the modern species of whale that inspired "Moby Dick." Sperm whales are terrifying enough in their contemporary form (they can sink boats!), but a fossil skull of L. melvillei discovered in the Peruvian desert reveals that it had 14-inch-long "vicious, tusk-like teeth" and probably ate other whales. The researchers who discovered it, led by Olivier Lambert of the Natural History Museum in Paris, thus classify it as a "raptorial sperm whale." Raptorial.

This would be a far more effective illustration of the dire nature of Twitter's infrastructure issues than a roly-poly, half-smiling cartoon whale who, to be honest, looks a little bit stoned.

The abstract in Nature explains of L. melvillei: "As a top predator, together with the contemporaneous giant shark Carcharocles megalodon, it probably had a profound impact on the structuring of Miocene marine communities," which totally sounds like something that the SyFy channel should co-opt into some kind of brilliant mega-shark vs. uber-whale undersea battle film. You'd probably want to have some human characters get caught in the middle of it, so maybe they could time-travel somehow. A pirate ship getting pulled into a marine vortex might work. Or a whaling ship. Or a San Francisco loft office space full of several hundred overwhelmed dot-com employees who are working round-the-clock to keep their servers afloat when they find that a certain line of troubleshooting code creates a portal that sucks them 12 million years into the past.

Will they make it out alive? Well, if they do, dealing with soccer-related site outages should be a piece of cake.