A year ago today—on March 13, 2016—the British Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), asked the public to help it name a new ship. The web responded enthusiastically, hundreds of thousands of people voted, and there were 32,000 suggested names, some more dignified than others.
“Within days ‘Boaty McBoatface’ had become a runaway favorite, a social media sensation that cropped up on panel shows and hit headlines across the world,” NERC explains on its blog. The organization was delighted with the online engagement, but not so much the people’s choice. “Whatever name was chosen…would need to stand for decades to come as the ship took researchers to the extremes of the Earth.”
NERC ultimately announced that the ship would be named for the British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. As a concession to voters, however, the organization used the Boaty McBoatface name for another one of its sea vessels—a little yellow remote-controlled submarine. “It would have been a travesty to cast aside a name that had captured the imagination of so many people around the world,” writes NERC.
This week, the sub will set out on its maiden voyage aboard the James Clark Ross—a large boat—to explore a deep current running between between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Boaty McBoatface will collect information and navigate underwater waterfalls and rapids on a two-month mission to study how global warming impacts oceans.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in light of the public’s enthusiasm for its name, the yellow submersible is getting lots of internet attention ahead of this mission.
But there are also some who see the story of the vote fiasco metaphorically. Many have suggested that that British officials should do with the Brexit referendum results what was done with the Name Our Ship campaign—basically, just ignore what the public asks for and give the people something to keep them happily distracted.
Meanwhile, others are worried NASA is about to discover the internet’s silly sense of humor, too.
All jokes aside, NERC is insistent the public remember that Boaty McBoatface is engaged in serious and important business. “Cute though it sounds, this unmanned submarine is part of a fleet of some pretty intrepid explorers,” NERC states.
The internet may be hard to convince.