Featured Image Credit: Mike Baird via Flickr
By Emily Persico
Deep in the sea, amidst a symphony of ocean banter, rings out the siren of one whale who never learned to sing like the others. This whale has never been seen. Alas, scientists have been recording its strange and lonely song since 1989, and they don’t even know what kind of whale they are listening to.
The “52 Hertz Whale,” as some people call it, sings a different tune than the blue and fin whales around it. Whereas everyone else is chiming in at about 15 to 20 hertz, the 52 hertz whale is singing a couple pitches higher, yet still so deep that its call is inaudible to humans.
The question that is on the public’s mind at this point is: If this whale’s song is higher than all the others, can anyone hear him? Is all his singing for naught, his voice drifting slowly into the great, dark oceanic abyss?
Almost immediately, the 52 Hertz Whale is nicknamed “The Loneliest Whale in the World,” and tributes in its honor start pouring in from every direction. From movies and shows, CDs and cassettes to tattoos, poems, and artwork, people from all over the world are expressing a feeling of connection with the whale.
“Not my entire life, but certainly a significant aspect of my life, has shifted in a direction it wouldn’t otherwise have taken. I think for a lot of people [the whale]’s done that,” says Mike Ambs, director of a film inspired by the 52 Hertz Whale.
The scientists, however, represent the other side of the spectrum. They don’t see the creature as lonely, per se, and they are frustrated with all the people who prescribe it human emotions.
“Is he successful reproductively? I haven’t the vaguest idea,” exhausts Mary Ann Daher, co-author of the original research paper discussing the whale. “Nobody can answer those questions. Is he lonely? I hate to attach human emotions like that. Do whales get lonely? I don’t know. I don’t even want to touch that topic.”
Still, Daher and other scientists sympathize with the whale’s cult following to some extent.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it, that people appear to identify with this whale,” she admits.
“It’s not physically the whale. The whale itself—honestly, if you talk to scientists, they will tell you that it’s not lonely,” says Joshua Zeman, a documentary maker and 52 Hertz Whale follower. “The power is in the metaphor. The power is in the motif. The power is in all these people coming together over an idea.”
Whether or not its oddball voice can be heard amongst its peer, the 52 Hertz Whale is not alone, and nor is any of its followers.