Will Salish Sea killer whales each get two names?

UPDATE, Nov. 24, 2010
Sometimes it takes a vacation to catch up on things. I always intended to list the new names given by the Whale Museum in this entry. I’m only two months late, after more than 7,500 votes were counted. Nevertheless, here are the new names as announced in a Sept. 15 news release:

J-44: The Whale Museum’s name is “Moby.” Other alternatives were “Kellett” and “Fin.” Ken Balcomb did not announce a name for this one.

J-46: “Star” is the name chosen by Ken, and Whale Museum voters concurred. Other options were “Galaxy” and “Dubhe.”

L-112: “Sooke” will be the name listed by the Whale Museum. Ken had already named her Victoria. The Whale Museum also proposed “ReJoyce” and “Wonder.”

L-113: Ken named her Molly. Whale Museum voters chose “Cousteau.” “Haro” and “Talise” were other alternatives.

I still have not decided whether to list one or both names in my stories or simply call them by their alpha-numeric designations.
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Ken Balcomb, who heads the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, has announced new names for six young killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea.

Balcomb’s names apparently will be different from names chosen by the Whale Museum, which has traditionally named the orcas. Could this cause confusion among those interested in whale families?

Since the 1970s, the Center for Whale Research has kept a census of the whales, designating new calves with a letter for their pod (J, K or L), along with the next available number in sequence. Until last year, when Ken named one young orca “Star,” the naming process was left up to the Whale Museum, based in Friday Harbor. See Water Ways, Nov. 19.

By the way, the Whale Museum is currently conducting a public vote to name four killer whales as part of its Orca Adoption Program. Check out the Whale Museum’s site.

Ken told me that people may choose to use his names, or not, as they wish, but he intends to list the names with their designations for identification purposes. As he stated in a blog entry announcing the names:

“My apologies to those who may be offended by the names and numbers I have given these whales. I’ve given the subject a fair amount of thought over three decades, and have refrained from giving them meaningless, stupid, or unpronounceable names. You may call them anything you wish, but I have been keeping the official records of these whales from the beginning of their study, and these names and numbers are what we will write in our books.”

Ken said he took the step of naming the whales himself because he felt that his Center for Whale Research was being left out of the naming process. He said he tried to work something out with Whale Museum staff, but they have not been receptive.

Jenny Atkinson, executive director of the Whale Museum, said she has talked with Ken several times about how the two organizations could work together, but they have never reached common ground.

One disagreement appears to be whether the Whale Museum should be doing scientific research in addition to its educational programs.

Balcomb, one of the original founders of the Whale Museum, said he learned through the years that many people give false credit to the Whale Museum for work conducted by his staff. He would prefer that the Whale Museum focus on its various educational programs, including a “wonderful” museum in downtown Friday Harbor. To that end, Balcomb said he would be willing to provide information from his studies.

But Atkinson says research has always been part of the Whale Museum’s mission. Since the killer whales were listed as “endangered” in 2005, helping to identify threats to their survival has become more important than ever. Besides, she said, most of her organization’s research is entirely different from what the Center for Whale Research is doing.

Both Ken and Jenny said they would keep the door open for further discussions.

Ken told me that he is considering some kind of program that would allow people to contribute directly to the Center. Most important, he said, is raising public awareness about the need to protect chinook salmon — the whales’ primary food source.

Meanwhile, I’m facing the fact that both the Center for Whale Research and the Whale Museum will be issuing different names for the same whales. Ken said he has seen this happen for other whale species on the East Coast. Jenny said she will try to incorporate Ken’s names into information from the Whale Museum, but the Whale Museum’s naming process will continue.

“These are free and wild whales and anyone can name them,” Jenny said. “Lots of people give them nicknames. We’ll try to include Ken’s story as part of the whales’ history.”

To vote on names for the whales, visit the Whale Museum’s website. The new names will be announced next month. For Ken’s explanation of his new names, check out the blog entry at the Center for Whale Research.

Here’s a brief rundown on the individual names:

J-46: Ken named this whale “Star.” The Whale Museum offers “Star” as one of three choices. The others are “Galaxy” and “Dubhe.”

L-110: The Whale Museum already named this orca “Midnight.” Ken named him “Flapper.”

L-113: Ken named her Molly. The Whale Museum is proposing the names “Cousteau,” “Haro” and “Talise.”

L-112: Ken named her Victoria. The Whale Museum is proposing the names “ReJoyce,” “Wonder,” and “Sooke.”

J-44: Ken did not name this one, but the Whale Museum is proposing “Moby,” “Kellett” and “Fin.”

Others named by Ken: J-47, “Looker,” K-43, “Speedy,” and L-115, “Hope.”

By tradition, the Whale Museum has waited for a year to name the whales and make them available for “adoption.” Ken said he may name them sooner after they are born, but he suggests waiting a year for adoption because of the greater risk that orcas may die in their first year.

Naming the whales makes them seem more real for a lot of people, he said. The death of a named whale could have more “impact” on people than just crossing a number off a list, he added.

I’m not sure how I’ll deal with competing names when I write about these orcas. I’ve always provided the alpha-numeric designation, for which there is no dispute, and usually added the name in some fashion. Names do seem to give the whales a stronger identity, a greater sense of individuality.

Should I stay with Whale Museum names, switch to the names that the Center for Whale Research will be using, or do something else?

12 thoughts on “Will Salish Sea killer whales each get two names?

  1. All the politically-connected non-profits fighting for empire… If you’ll remember, the Puget Sound Partnership was going to put an end to this. Hasn’t worked though, has it? Still have them all. And then some. Something must be wrong with the PSP. Any idea what that might be, Chris?

  2. Yep. But this ain’t one of them.

    RCW 90.71.200(c) Puget Sound must be restored and protected in a more coherent and effective manner. The current system is highly fragmented. Immediate and concerted action is necessary by all levels of government working with the public, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to ensure a thriving natural system that exists in harmony with a vibrant economy.

  3. Ken Balcomb has done the annual census of this population for the past 34 years since its inception, and no one knows them better than he does. If anyone should be responsible for naming them or designating who names them, it should be him!

  4. Credit should go where it’s due — I vote that you follow Ken’s naming strategy. That, and I like the name “Molly” for an orca. Sorry Whale Museum.

  5. Ken is acting like a primadonna here, conveniently forgetting all of the research the Whale Museum has participated in over the years;e.g., hydrophones, Lime Kiln research station. The Museum’s naming system is democratic – it allows the public a voice. How ’bout we rename all the Salish Sea orcas with Native/First Nations names? Famous blues singers?

  6. During a time when we should be focusing on recovery of these animals from their status as an endangered species and their subsequent sustainability in the region, this is a ridiculous attempt to establish more of what we do not need- severed interests and empire building. There is a past between the two organizations that is long and complicated- it should be discarded and the focus should be driving public interest towards the fragility of this population. Instead, we sit here trying to figure out what to call individuals who, unless the Recovery Plan is put into action, monitored and makes an impact- will not live long enough for the fight over ego to see its appropriate end. Take it to the streets guys and focus on the whales who have put you both on the map of history.

  7. Sandy,

    You make a good point. But the whales are given names to make them more personal to people. I don’t think naming them takes away from the effort to protect and restore the population, but maybe you do. If you read this blog, you know I cover practically all killer whale issues.

    Setting aside the “long and complicated” history of the two groups, I’m wondering if you think that I (maybe everyone) should abandon the use of names and just stick with the alpha-numeric designations.

  8. I certainly didnt mean to imply the names for the whales are useless- I agree completely that having a “given” name as opposed to strictly adhering to an alpha-numeric designation makes the whales much more personal. Education is key to enlightenment- and the names (to me) generate a compassion which hopefully translates to an understanding of their vulnerability. I personally flip back and forth between both depending on the audience and mood- but that’s just me.

    My concern is based not on the existing naming structure which has “worked” for years to bring these animals into the hearts of many- but this new slant from Ken. Why now—or better yet, why at all? Each organization offers important (and very different) aspects of education and scientific outreach to the community/region/world/etc.

    It would just be nice to see everyone working together for recovery instead of rehashing old grudges and coming up with new ways to detract from the hard issues at hand we face in the recovery of the species. Infighting doesn’t accomplish anything and in actually, may cause some to throw their hands up in confusion and walk away.

    I’m glad you published this- we’ve all been wondering where it would lead and at least it’s “out there” for the public to see. I guess only time will tell…

  9. It really all comes from a confusion set in motion 30 years ago that persists, over how the research function and the museum could work best together. The ideal would be that “Each organization offers important (and very different) aspects of education and scientific outreach to the community/region/world/etc.” But that ideal was derailed when the Museum presented its mission as including research. The ideal symbiosis is still out of balance, so each is speaking for itself.

  10. UPDATE, Nov. 24, 2010

    Sometimes it takes a vacation to catch up on things. I always intended to list the new names given by the Whale Museum in this entry. I’m only two months late, after more than 7,500 votes were counted. Nevertheless, here are the new names as announced in a Sept. 15 news release:

    J-44: The Whale Museum’s name is “Moby.” Other alternatives were “Kellett” and “Fin.” Ken Balcomb did not announce a name for this one.

    J-46: “Star” is the name chosen by Ken, and Whale Museum voters concurred. Other options were “Galaxy” and “Dubhe.”

    L-112: “Sooke” will be the name listed by the Whale Museum. Ken had already named her Victoria. The Whale Museum also proposed “ReJoyce” and “Wonder.”

    L-113: Ken named her Molly. Whale Museum voters chose “Cousteau.” “Haro” and “Talise” were other alternatives.

    I still have not decided whether to list one or both names in my stories or simply call them by their alpha-numeric designations.

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