Naming the whales: in the name of friendship

On April 23, 2010, we lost Earl Thomas to cancer. Known as Bubba, he was the gentleman skipper of the Whale Watching Fleet here in Clayoquot and a passionate lover

of the whales with a kinship felt particularly for the Kawkawin. An ardent fan of our research,he took every opportunity to help us out (e.g. donating a hand held GPS that works to this day).

At a ceremony in the Hupacasath House of Gathering in Port Alberni, past director Wilfred Atleo and myself talked with Bubba’s wife of 31 years, Lilian Thomas, about naming a whale in his memory.

In First Nations tradition, a naming should not be given in a hurry; give it time to find itself. Of twelve

sprouting young bulls, we came up with 14 year old T010C. Here’s the connection from our August ’94 newsletter.

“In August ’94, Langara’s (T010’s) were travelling with Ted’s gang when an unaware bull Stellar Sea Lion showed up in their line of travel. Oh, oh. The orcas submerged and moments later the one-ton sea lion was thrown through the water by the flick of a powerful tail.

“They were unmerciful, as one orca after another smacked the hapless animal around. For an instant, the sea lion was alone on the surface frantically swinging his head as he looked in all directions, both above and below the water. A moment later, one of the bulls burst into the air and came down on top of him in an explosive

body slam.

“A whale watching vessel had just arrived on the scene and skipper Earl Thomas found himself with one battered sea lion trying to drag himself up onto his boat loaded with tourists.

“It took several minutes before the sea lion was in a position where Earl could safely throw the vessel into reverse and get clear. Several more minutes of battering ensued and then they were gone, leaving one very bruised and bewildered sea lion behind.”

Bubba later confided that if the lion had got aboard, he would have had to start jettisoning some of the tourists in order to compensate for the extra weight. Good on ya Bubba!

Note: Back in the early 70s when Michael Bigg realized that Killer Whales could be individually identified by unique markings, the animals were catalogued with an ID # and informally though not published, with a name.

We use these names in our works as identifiers and occasionally come up with our own names for distinct animals. It has been argued that naming them denotes ownership of some sort and should not be done.

I feel naming is more in the line of friendship. In our human culture, the only folks I can think of who are referred to by numbers alone are prison inmates.

Rod Palm is the principle investigator of the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society.