The importance of a good name

False killer whale porpoising

Since writing about the plight of Hawaii’s false killer whales, I can’t stop thinking about the importance of a good name. The name false killer whale really isn’t doing these whales any favors. This bummer common name stems from the genus part of the scientific name Pseudorca, which means, you guessed it, false killer whale.

According to the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, the scientific name comes from the similarity in “skull morphology” between killer whales and false killer whales. It’s rare for a scientific name to literally translate into the common name, so too bad that it did in this case.

But people change their names all the time, so why not change the name of the false killer whale?! Before rushing to judgment think about this…during Robin Baird’s presentation at the American Cetacean Society (ACS) Conference he explained that the Cascadia Research team has been trying to raise awareness and garner support for Hawaii’s false killer whales plight, but it has been so tough to get people to care. Even with good press for supporting false killer whales, people remain obsessed with the much more popular and famous humpback whales and spinner dolphins.

Of course it’s tough to compete with the acrobats of the sea, humpbacks breaching and spinner dolphins, well spinning. But they also have way better names! Spinner, that’s a great name and while humpback maybe isn’t the coolest name, it’s fitting based on the way humpbacks dive and it’s memorable. However, false killer whale, what? Upon hearing that name it’s easy to think “oh a fake killer whale” or “oh that must be a reference to a whale that’s not real” or “that must be the ancestor of the killer whale” or “that sounds like a killer whale with false teeth.”

But false killer whales are real and Hawaii’s false killer whales are in real trouble with less than 150 left. It’s time to give false killer whales a real name so they have a fighting chance, a name that people can rally around and get behind…stay tuned for my suggestions tomorrow.


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