Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 6:50 pm | Fair 59º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: A ‘Gigantor’ of Blues

Try these collective names for whales on for size

For a half-mile in any direction they arc toward the boat — dolphins’ sleek bodies leaping rhythmically through their breathe-swim cycle. Encountering hundreds or thousands of dolphins is like watching Olympic-level synchronized swimming. A large group is called a megapod of dolphins, but it could just as well be called a dance of dolphins.

Karen Telleen-Lawton
Karen Telleen-Lawton

Animals’ official collective names are very curious. I sometimes wonder how the appellations came to be.

A congregation of plovers seems a bit odd. Its intent perhaps is to evoke that shoreline bird’s classy but not flashy markings. A smack of jellyfish reminds me of that moment when an approaching wave brought a floating jellyfish squarely into my bare belly. I hate to think of being smacked by a whole smack of them. A turmoil of porpoises, a siege of herons? The namer of collective names must have had some mighty strange marine encounters for those names to be appropriate.

Whales are a whole other category. Since Santa Barbara has a reputation for nurturing the largest diversity of marine mammals in the world, I believe we have the right or maybe even the duty to search for more descriptive collective whale names. Roget’s suggestions — gam, mob, pod, run and school — just don’t do it for me. Here are a few of my choices.

Notwithstanding their common name of “killer whale,” a group of orcas is a beautiful sight: graceful black-and-white shading and a powerful presence. They seem almost royal to me, so I’d call them a court of orcas.

Gray whales are passers-through, whose mission, besides avoiding orcas, is high-tailing it to their Baja birthing grounds and then back to their Arctic feeding grounds. Their predictable pathway, scheduled for Santa Barbara beginning in December, leads me to call them a lane of grays.

Humpbacks treat our Channel like an almost year-round picnic. They’re here for the food, but they enjoy themselves as well: breaching, tail-slapping, spy-hopping, and generally entertaining themselves and their enthralled whale-watchers. A group of humpbacks could logically be called a playgroup.

The first time I spied a blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, I was on the Condor Express in the middle of the Channel. That day we saw five blue whales, one of whom approached the boat so closely we could see his entire glistening turquoise-blue body beneath the surface. He sank under the boat and then emerged in front of it, nostrils flaring on the top of his head like huge tubas. As his whole size became visible, a word from my distant past surfaced in my mind.

As a child swimming in the surf with friends, we’d occasionally freeze at the approach of a huge wave. This kind of wave was so enormous to our pint-sized bodies that it simply couldn’t be ridden. Our only avenue of escape was to “duck and cover” until it washed over us or we were tumbled into the wet sand.

In these instances, we’d look at each other in mock terror and yell, “Gigantor!” This is what I propose for a group of these immense creatures: a gigantor of blues.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations supporting sustainability. Graze her writing and excerpts from Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon at www.CanyonVoices.com.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.