52 Hertz: The Loneliest Whale in the World

By Animal Planet

For decades now, scientists at the NOAA have been tracking a mysterious whale song that sounds like the ghostly howls of a drowned tuba player. The sounds have been identified as belonging to a single whale, who sings at a frequency unlike any other whale in the world.

Dubbed “52 Hertz” after the frequency range in which he typically sings, the animal has been called the loneliest whale in the world, since his love songs seem destined to go unanswered. Most other species of baleen whale, such as blue whales and humpbacks, sing at frequencies much higher, between the 15-25 Hertz range.

Not only does 52 Hertz sing at a much lower frequency, but his calls are also shorter and more frequent than those of other whales. It’s as if he speaks his own language– a language of one. Even stranger, 52 Hertz does not follow the known migration route of any extant baleen whale species. He sings alone and travels alone.

Could this individual be the last of a previously unknown species of baleen whale? That’s one possibility. Whale biologists have also proposed that he could be malformed, or maybe a rare hybrid– perhaps a blue whale and fin whale cross. Whatever the explanation, 52 Hertz is one of a kind.

There’s also some evidence that he is maturing, since his voice has deepened slightly since the Navy first identified him in 1992, according to a 2004 article at the New York Times.

Although 52 Hertz’s exact age is unknown, he continues to survive 20 years after his initial discovery. He was last recorded not far off the Aleutians and Kodiak Island, according to Alaska Dispatch– which is also the closest he has come to land since first being tracked. You can view a zigzagging map of his migration routes between 1992 and 2004 here.

You can also hear recordings of 52 Hertz’s calls at the NOAA here, and you can even compare how he sounds to other baleen whales.

While whale lovers may lament the mournful tale of the loneliest whale in the world, there is some reason for hope, too. 52 Hertz seems to be healthy, in spite of his loneliness.

“The fact that this individual has been capable of existing in that harsh environment [for so many years] indicates there is nothing wrong with it,” said Dr. Kate Stafford, a researcher at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, to the New York Times.

The whale’s resilience could also be viewed as inspiration to anyone with a lonely heart. Despite 20 years of bellowing unanswered hymns into the cold echoes of the North Pacific, he sings on.

A famous Zen koan asks: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Perhaps it resonates in 52 Hertz.

 

Related:
Whales Help Measure Global Warming
A Whale of a Love Story (video)
Dolphin That Saved Whales Wins Award

160 comments

Kati Patelaki
Kathy P.3 years ago

I just feel sorry for this whale.

Dale Overall

Intriguing story, one wonders if this whale was once a part of a pod or a unique one of a kind as suggested. Wish he had a better name than the rather drab and scientific 52 Hertz.
Whales like the company of the Pod and it is tragic that he is alone and calling with no answers!

For those frustrated because they have posted and the comment has not appeared it seems this has been going on a lot lately but usually if one goes back to the comment box and hits the blue lettering of VIEW more comments" or "View fewer comments" your comment usually will show up but even that lately has not worked. Avoid hitting the Add Comment orange box constantly as this will just repeat your previous comment. Just go off to your message box, after that type in what ever the topic you were at in the Search box (it helps to remember title of the topic!) click on it and voila when returning to the page your comment will appear. Yes, time consuming and annoying but it will be there!

Dale Overall

Took my own advice below and tried to find my comment which was not visible after posting, even that did not work, but voila, like magic it appeared after posting a comment in another article elsewhere--saw it in the People Are Talking blurb on the far right hand side (by the advertising) of the other article that I was commenting on.

Well, seems that comments are not visible for quite awhile after hitting the orange add comment button, but take heart it Eventually Does Show Up afterwards so as tempting as it is to hit the Add comment button six times in frustration...please don't! It is floating out there in cyberspace and the comment will appear...albeit very slooooowwwly after you have hit the add comment button one time! Have absolutely no idea of why this has been going on lately but have faith in the joys of the internet. Seems to have been happening in early June 2012 for some reason!

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

I hope this whale finds a friend soon. Life is supposed to be happy, regardless of species.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Barbara Mathiews
Barbara Mathiews4 years ago

I hope he is fine...

Shan D.
Shan D.4 years ago

Oh, my. I just played that and my cats were affected, too. The older cat woke up and was somewhat alert, but the younger one started twitching her ears, and searching around the apartment. Now she's scared that I've got a baleen whale hiding under the bed.

Marguerite C.
Marguerite C.4 years ago

How very, very ad. My cats became quite upset at this sound. I do play whale sounds on CD which they don't appear to be concerned about. But when I played this they became alert with ears back, head up

Masha Samoilova
Past Member 4 years ago

how sad

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim4 years ago

Maybe there's another lone whale waiting to meet their own partner out there somewhere. I hope he's not the last one of his kind :(