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The newsman and the whale name

September 8, 2014
The heavily scarred back of a miraculous survivor of a shipstrike in NSW in 2001 belongs to a female humpback named Bladerunner. Photo courtesy of Cat Balou Cruises, Eden. NSW, October 2013.

The heavily scarred back of a survivor of a shipstrike in NSW in 2001 belongs to a female humpback named Bladerunner. Photo courtesy of Cat Balou Cruises, Eden. NSW, October 2013.

She has been named Bladerunner for so long that people have forgotten where the name came from.

I would have put my money on the name being coined by a fisherman or a whale watching outfit or some old salt but I would have been very wrong.

She was given that name by someone who never even saw her in the ocean, someone sitting at a desk in an office.
I first heard the female humpback’s name earlier this year from marine scientist David Donnelly when I was researching where the East Coast population of humpbacks go during Summer.

Bladerunner came up in the conversation because she was recognised by the scarring on her back with a calf (a sign of a good recovery) in the Southern Ocean south of Perth.

This sighting so far west was evidence that as the humpback population grows their migratory patterns are becoming more diverse. Most of the population migrates to areas of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean south of New Zealand so she was quite a long way from her usual route.

After that she went off my radar again until I became interested in how whale species got their names.

I found out why Southern Rights were named rights etc and then I turned my mind to how Bladerunner got her name.

The first thing I found when I did a Google search was the photo. Horrendous scars

I was surprised to find out how famous she was She was appearing in many articles because her survival was so miraculous and she was so easy to distinguish.

Then I found a 2013 report of a sighting in Port Macquarie with an additional photo Bladerunner’s fresh wounds taken in 2001 by Australian Newspaper photographer Glenn Campbell.

I contacted him and this is what he remembered of the naming:

“From what I remember the wounds were pretty fresh , the low quality of the digital cameras in those days don’t really bring out the extent of the injuries.

“No Bladerunner was not my idea but the editor of the Telegraph Campbell Reid’s input and I just had a 600mm lens with me and got right over it above the 500ft ceiling for whales and then for the next week or so was put aboard a helicopter to follow the poor creature up the coast , we lost it north of Coffs Harbour.

“…it was on the front of the OZ , Tele , Courier mail the next day and then onto the rest of the English papers.”

So it was one of the big guys in the Australian media industry Campbell Reid who gave her a name that will no doubt stick for many years to come.

Another lead had led me to Ros Butt from Cat Balou Cruises in Eden.

Ros saw Bladerunner last year and once before in 2008 but she only knew of the name from media reports.

Facebook screenshot used with permission of Cat Balou Cruises

Facebook screenshot used with permission of Cat Balou Cruises


She was happy to supply the photo and thanks to all these people we can all know Bladerunner a little bit better.

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