A lone fin whale, via tomp77/Flickr
After 24 years of hearing his solitary song, filmmakers will try to meet the so-called "world’s loneliest whale."
Since the 1980s, scientists have heard a single whale in the Pacific, singing at a higher frequency than any other—way up at 52 hertz, rather than down below human hearing at 15-20 hertz where blue and fin whales normally sing. In spite of listening in for two decades, no one has ever heard a lady whale reply.
Marine biologist Mary Ann Daher was the co-author on the paper that introduced the 52-hertz whale to the world. For whatever reason, the idea of a whale—normally a social creature—creaking through the oceans, singing in a frequency unlike any of his peers, and never hearing a reply, caught on with the public. Daher has been hearing about it ever since.
"I receive letters, emails and poems - mostly from women - and it's heartbreaking to read some of the things they say.” said Daher. “They identify with this animal who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere, doesn't make friends easily, feels alone and feels different from everybody."
The whale has never been seen, so it is unknown if he actually is traveling alone or in a pod. It’s not even clear what kind of whale he is—a blue whale or a fin, or possibly some other otherwise extinct species.
“We never had a visual,” Daher said. “We don’t know what species it is. We don’t know if it has a malformation. Obviously, it’s healthy. It’s been alive all these years. Is he alone? I don’t know. People like to imagine this creature just out there swimming by his lonesome, just singing away and nobody’s listening.”
Joshua Zeman, a documentary filmmaker, was one of those struck by the story of the 52 hertz whale. Now he's helming the documentary, which will include a trip to the North Pacific to find the whale. The doc’s Facebook page is living proof of how the story of the whale hits people.
Is the whale even alone though?
“It is much more likely the animal might be the equivalent of an animal with a lisp, that it has—I won’t call it a speech impediment, because it’s probably understandable to other animals, but it’s different.” said whale researcher Bruce Mate of the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University, who will lead the scientific side of exhibition. He expects to find the 52 hertz whale in a pod with 15 other whales.
Still people are stuck the notion of the whale being all alone, isolated by his song and roaming the seas for decades as a solitary, blubbery soul.