Meet the Newly Named Right Whales of 2023

By Kate McPherson on Wednesday, December 06, 2023

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Newly named right whale "Calamari" (Catalog #3946) Photo: Clearwater Marine Research Institute. Taken under NOAA Permit #20556-01

Why do right whales need names? Every right whale in the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog already has a four-digit number assigned to them, which is based on the year they were born or first sighted. While these catalog numbers provide useful information, they can be difficult to remember when researchers don’t have the catalog in front of them for reference. It is very important for researchers to be able to identify individual right whales in real-time correctly, and often, a name is easier to remember than a number. Plus, names are more personal and help people feel connected to the individuals! As Regina Asmutis-Silvia of Whale and Dolphin Conservation says, “Naming whales reminds us that each individual whale is unique, with their own identity, and plays an important role in their community and in our lives.”

Each year, a subgroup of right whales is selected for the naming process, which involves submissions from different research organizations and ranked choice voting (not to mention a lot of behind-the-scenes work to set up this entire procedure). Submitted names must relate to easily recognizable features or facts about the individual whale in order to be considered, as the purpose of assigning a name is to make the whale easy to identify in the field. For example, a female right whale was recently named Ghost because the front of her callosity pattern resembles a cartoon ghost, and a male was named Avalanche because all the white scarring on his tail looked like snow. 

Many names were submitted for consideration this year, and the final names resulting from voting were presented at the annual North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium meeting in October. Following the success of last year’s right whale naming process, where all 20 nominated right whales were named, this year, 19 of 20 nominated right whales were assigned names, and voters decided to keep one whale unnamed because there was difficulty finding an appropriate name to match the whale’s features. This individual did not get a name assigned this year, but could be eligible for the naming process in the future if enough researchers agree to nominate. And now, we invite you to meet the newly named right whales of 2023!

Right whale Mallard

Name: Mallard (Catalog #1042)

Sex: M

Age: 43+

Reason for name: My callosity pattern resembles a duck looking towards the left with its beak tilted up.

Get to know me: Since I was first seen by researchers in 1980, I have been spotted all over the waters off the northeastern United States and Canada—- but so far, I have not been seen in the mid-Atlantic or southeast calving grounds.

Favorite song: I’m Like a Bird – Nelly Furtado

Right whale Maple

Name: Maple (Catalog #1711)

Sex: F+

Age: 36

Reason for name: One of my calves inspired my name: My son Whirligig (Catalog #4711) is named for the winged seed of a maple tree. I have also been seen in the waters off Canada, where the maple tree is the country’s national tree!

Get to know me: My youngest brother, Coupe (Catalog #3792), has yet to be sighted in Canadian waters. He prefers to hang out in the Gulf of Maine.

Favorite song: The Hockey Song – Stompin’ Tom Connors

Right whale Surf

Name: Surf (Catalog #2910)

Sex: M

Age: 24+

Reason for name: The white scarring along the side of my callosity looks like breaking waves.

Get to know me: I was first seen by researchers in 1999 in Cape Cod Bay, and I have been a regular visitor there ever since.

Favorite song: Wipe Out – The Surfaris

Right whale Marilyn Monroe

Name: Marilyn Monroe (Catalog #3130)

Sex: F+

Age: 22

Reason for name: I am named for Marilyn Monroe and her iconic beauty mark, which was located on the same side of her face as the scar at the front of my head.

Get to know me: I have had three documented calves—one born in 2008 (Catalog #3810), one born in 2011 (Catalog #4191), and my latest born in 2021, who has not been added to the catalog yet. 

Favorite song: Candle in the Wind – Elton John

Right whale Waldo

Name: Waldo (Catalog #3191)

Sex: M

Age: 23+

Reason for name: The topography of my callosity pattern resembles the “Where’s Waldo” character’s signature eyeglasses.

Get to know me: Since I was first seen in 2000 in the Gulf of Maine, I’ve been spotted in all sorts of places, from the southeast calving grounds off Georgia and Florida all the way to Canada!

Favorite song: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

Right whale Scrimshaw

Name: Scrimshaw (Catalog #3333)

Sex: M

Age: 20

Reason for name: My body is covered in scars from five known entanglements, much like scrimshaw art etched onto bone or ivory.

Get to know me: My sister, Katahdin (Catalog #4633), was also nominated and named this year!

Favorite song: Tattoo – Jordin Sparks

Right whale Pinball

Name: Pinball (Catalog #3693)

Sex: F+

Age: 17+

Reason for name: My overall callosity pattern looks like a pinball game, with the island being the ball and the multiple peninsulas being the obstacles.

Get to know me: I am a bit of a mystery. I was first seen by researchers in 2006, but they didn’t know I was female until I was seen with a calf in 2015! 

Favorite song: Pinball Wizard – The Who

Right whale Valkyrie

Name: Valkyrie (Catalog #3917)

Sex: F

Age: 14

Reason for name: In Norse mythology, a Valkyrie is a female warrior, and my many scars show that I have survived three documented battles with entangling fishing gear.

Get to know me: I have two younger sisters who have the same mother as I do, Frida (Catalog #3317), as well as three older brothers who have the same father as I do, Catalog #1328

Favorite song: Warrior – Demi Lovato

Name: Calamari (Catalog #3946)

Sex: F

Age: 14

Reason for name: This is a family name since my mother is Loligo (Catalog #1246), which is a genus of squid.

Get to know me: I have six known siblings, including Halo (Catalog #3546), which means the newly named whale Jagger (Catalog #5046) is my nephew!

Favorite song: Ocean Eyes – Billie Eilish

Right whale Martini

Name: Martini (Catalog #4042)

Sex: M

Age: 13

Reason for name: There is a small scar on my head that touches part of my callosity (known as an “island”), making it look like a skewered olive on a classic martini.

Get to know me: Like 007, I have escaped from many dangerous situations, including three known entanglements in fishing gear.

Favorite song: The James Bond Theme – John Barry

Right whale Goldfish

Name: Goldfish (Catalog #4129)

Sex: M

Age: 12

Reason for name: My callosity is shaped like that classic whale-watching snack, the goldfish cracker!

Get to know me: A lot of my sightings have been in the Gulf of St Lawrence, an important feeding habitat for many North Atlantic right whales. I was first seen there when I was four years old.

Favorite song: Golden – Harry Styles

Right whale Kermit

Name: Kermit (Catalog #4220)

Sex: M

Age: 11

Reason for name: My callosity looks like the beloved muppet Kermit the Frog, who is always juggling at least four things at a time on the Muppet Show (and I have four post-blowhole callosities).

Get to know me: Researchers know my mother’s identity (Cyclops, Catalog #3220) because I was seen with her on the calving grounds, but they were only able to identify my father (Crest, Catalog #1513) through genetic testing.

Favorite song: Bein’ Green – Kermit the Frog

Name: Prickly Pear (Catalog #4310)

Sex: F

Age: 10

Reason for name: The overall shape of my callosity looks like a cactus with oval-shaped branches.

Get to know me: As a juvenile, there was a gap in my sighting history when I was two and three years old. Researchers are not sure where I spent my time during those years, though it’s not unusual for young whales to explore different areas—like Mogul (Catalog #3845) who has been spotted off Iceland and France!

Favorite song: The Bare Necessities – Phil Harris & Bruce Reitherman

Right whale Zeus

Name: Zeus (Catalog #4539)

Sex: M

Age: 8

Reason for name: The scar behind my right blowhole looks like a lightning bolt, which was the signature weapon used by the Greek god Zeus.

Get to know me: Researchers had a tough time identifying me after my calf year when I was no longer swimming with my mother, Diablo (Catalog #3139). To date, there are no sightings of me in my first year solo, though I have been seen regularly ever since.

Favorite song: Thunder – Imagine Dragons

Right whale Jester

Name: Jester (Catalog #4546)

Sex: F

Age: 8

Reason for name: My callosity pattern looks like a court jester juggling three balls in the air.

Get to know me: The first time I visited the Gulf of St Lawrence feeding grounds as a calf was also the first time my mother (Catalog #3646) had been seen in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Before I came along, she was mostly seen in Cape Cod Bay and the Bay of Fundy.

Favorite song: The Entertainer – Billy Joel

Right whale Katahdin

Name: Katahdin (Catalog #4633)

Sex: F

Age: 7

Reason for name: The callosity towards the front of my head is tall and stands apart, just like the tallest mountain in Maine.

Get to know me: Though I’m only seven years old, I’ve already had five documented entanglement events.

Favorite song: Katahdin – Schooner Fare

Right whale Coral

Name: Coral (Catalog #4980)

Sex: U

Age: 4

Reason for name: The marks on my back resemble corals you might find on a tropical reef.

Get to know me: As is often the case, when my mother Dyad (Catalog #4180) was first seen by researchers, they did not know whether she was male or female—they only knew she was a female once she was seen with me in the calving grounds in 2019!

Favorite song: Kokomo – The Beach Boys

Right whale Agave

Name: Agave (Catalog #5001)

Sex: M

Age: 3

Reason for name: In Greek mythology, Agave was the offspring of Harmonia (my mother’s name, Catalog #3101). I also have scars on my back that look like the leaves of an agave plant.

Get to know me: My grandmother, Aphrodite (Catalog #1701), is named for the Greek goddess of love!

Favorite song: Agave – Kiefer Sutherland

Right whale Jagger

Name: Jagger (Catalog #5046)

Sex: M

Age: 3

Reason for name: I have incredibly large lip callosities that resemble the lips of famous singer Mick Jagger.

Get to know me: My mother, Halo (Catalog #3546), has only a very tiny lip callosity on her right lip. I must have inherited my large lip callosities from my father!

Favorite song: You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones


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