Enough with the media's dumb whale nicknames

All-white humpback whale Migaloo. Picture: LISA SKELTON

All-white humpback whale Migaloo. Picture: LISA SKELTON

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I dunno know about you but I breathed a massive sigh of relief after hearing about the humpback whale that almost came to grief in the tricky flows off Kiama last Saturday.

The seven-metre behemoth got all twisted up in ropes and other debris in Loves Bay but, thankfully, a team from the National Parks and Wildlife Service's whale disentanglement squad was on the case.

With night closing in, they managed to cut a few ropes and buoys off the thrashing giant before darkness forced them back to shore.

When they returned at first light, the whale was gone. It had freed itself! High fives and dorsals all round! Phew.

Like most people, I was stoked the whale didn't drown while snared in human detritus. My greatest relief, though, was that the magnificent mammal made it back out to sea before some clown in the press - maybe even someone at this newspaper* - deemed it necessary to slap it with a nickname.

It is one of my great pet hates of the mainstream media; What's that? A humpback is in trouble? And humans trying to help it out? Quick! Call ORCA, then give the poor bastard a nickname.

It's been going on far too long. Here are just a few humpbacks you might be familiar with:

  • Migaloo: A rare albino creature, it's been cruising Australia's east coast for years. Migaloo is an indigenous word meaning "white fella". I guarantee a white fella came up with that.
  • MJ (or Migaloo Jr): Possibly, but not confirmed, the offspring of the above-mentioned humpback. (Strangely, this baby albino's skin is similar to Michael Jackson's.)
  • Colin/Colleen: Another infant of the species, Colin was originally named by some media twit or other after it was discovered trying to suckle a yacht in Sydney's Pittwater in 2008. Three days after banging on and on about little Colin, experts quietly informed the press it was in fact a female. Suddenly it was "Colleen". Then it died. So did the story.
  • Blade Runner: this unfortunate humpback was cavorting in waters off Sydney in 2001 when a ship ran over it; a propeller chewed through its blubber from head to tail, leaving a scar like a giant zipper.

Now, we've all seen enough National Geographic docos to know whales use high-pitched echolocation, sonar-like squeaks and songs to communicate. Reason tells us a typical whale name translated would probably read something like "Wooooiiiiieeee".

Instead, somewhere out there in the Pacific Ocean right now, the mighty and revered Haaaaaeeeiiii - a fabled warrior among his kind - is swimming about saddled with the thoroughly dumb nickname Blade Runner.

How do we know that "Blade Runner" doesn't translate to "Dumb Arse" or "Rotting Porpoise" in humpbackese? It happens! Many years ago I worked with a photographer in Hong Kong named Mark Round.

Word around the office was his name translated into "Squid Balls" in Cantonese.

All of this raises another question. Why don't we name all creatures of the deep that are involved in notable news events? How many times have you read about a shark attack, only to have the individual in question referred to as "a three-metre bronze whaler" or a "juvenile great white"?

Since the media loves a narrative replete with good guys (whales) and bad guys (sharks), how about bestowing a name to fit with the script next time there's a shark attack? As both a keen surfer and a member of the fourth estate, I'd be perfectly happy with the following appearing in the Illawarra Mercury:

Surf Life Saving authorities have issued a warning to swimmers in the Illawarra after South Coast father of three Craig Henderson was killed by a shark late yesterday.

Shocked witnesses described how Tupac Sledgehammer - a 3.5 metre great white - knocked Mr Henderson off his surfboard about 50 metres from shore at North Narrawallee Beach about 5pm.

"Hendo was about to paddle for a wave when Tupac swam straight up and bit him in half," said one shaken friend, who only wanted to be known as Josh ... etc.

It'll never happen of course. But as sure as there are plenty of fish in the sea, you can bet the media has a cutesy name ready to go the next time a humpback comes to town.

* This could be my last column ...

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