Subject: Whale names - why so odd?

Dagmar Fertl (Dagmar.Fertl@mms.gov)
Wed, 14 Apr 1999 13:05:10 -0400

     Dear ********,
     I am here for the first time and I just wanted to ask why the whales
     have such weird names.  How do they get the names for the whales?  And 
     if what I have heard is right about killer whales that they don't kill 
     people, then why are they called killer whales?  I can understand the 
     humpback whale but so many more that have weird names or names that 
     don't fit what they really are.  Well thankx for listening to my 
     letter! ~*~Allison~*~
     
     
     Allison,
     ******************************************
     Thanks for your interesting question on why names of whales are so 
     'wierd'.  I assume you're talking about the common names and not the 
     scientic ones (Latin).  Many of the common names you're talking about 
     originated with whalers and fishermen coming up with names for the 
     critters.  I agree, many of them do see pretty strange when you know 
     something about the animal(s) in question. Those are now the names 
     that most people and scientists are familiar with, which is why we use 
     them.  What gets crazier is that we don't call animals always the same 
     thing around the world.  For example, the species of seal that we know 
     in the United States and Canada as the 'harbor seal' is known as the 
     'common seal' in the United Kingdom.
     
     Killer whales were called killer whales because of the fact that they 
     kill the big whales (including sperm whales and big baleen whales).  
     Did you know that there is a also the 'false killer whale'? It also 
     feeds on dolphins, which is probably how it got the name 'false killer 
     whale'.
     
     Hope this helps!
     Dagmar