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Want to name a sea slug? A nonprofit might let you.

To raise cash, some science and environmental groups will let donors name species for a fee.

By Randy DotingaCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 2008

For $15,000, you could name this sea slug.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography


San Diego

Forget about getting a building named after yourself. The cash-strapped Scripps Institution of Oceanography is offering what might be an even better deal to someone looking to make a mark in history: A rare hydrothermal vent worm will forever be emblazoned with your name if you fork over $50,000.

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For those on a smaller budget, a mere $15,000 will land you in the annals of marine biology as the namesake of an orange, speckled nudibranch, also known as a sea slug.
Across the world, “name a species” fundraisers are spreading into a variety of scientific fields. In recent years, donors have vied for the rights to grant names to frog and shark species, among others.

To supporters, naming programs are appropriate ways to raise money and draw attention to science during times of major financial stress. But critics see plenty of potential for abuse.

“There are concerns that profiteering is inappropriate,” says Joe Mendelson, curator of herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians, at Zoo Atlanta. “There are people out in the taxonomy community who say as soon as there’s money involved, this is flat-out wrong.”

So far, profits from name-a-species promotions have run the gamut from huge to modest. The biggest bounties came in 2005, when an online casino donated $650,000 to name a monkey species, and last year, an ocean-species naming auction in Monaco raised $2 million for research. The African nation of Rwanda, meanwhile, raises funds through a high-profile program that names individual gorillas each year.

At least one other fundraiser is struggling, however. Amphibian Ark, a preservation organization, has been disappointed by its efforts to auction the rights to name frog species. One online auction last month raised just $5,500, says program director Kevin Zippel, while this month’s has only reached $2,000 so far. “We desperately need money to try to save amphibian species,” says Mr. Zippel, who points to estimates suggesting 2,000 to 3,000 of the species are in danger of extinction. “We’re looking at all the options that are open to us.”

While federal support for science has remained steady since 2004, reaching $57.4 billion this year, it’s actually gone down when inflation is taken into account, says Kei Koizumi, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s R&D budget and policy program. “Every year there’s a little scr less money to go around,” he says.