The past few months I've been down a blow hole (that sounds weird, but I wanted to think of it has a rabbit hole...) about whales. Obsessed with documentaries about them and listen to their songs before bed. I want to be near them under the water or scanning the water for signs of them.
The human relationship to whales for some reason feels more important than ever, as if they are holding the evolution of Earth itself. And I want them to tell me what's happening and how to help. Or perhaps I want to feel with them, like the blue whale who has the largest heart of any creature we know of, weighing in at 400 pounds and can be detected 2 miles away.
We know whales feel deeply, just like humans. I will never forget the story of the whale Tahlequah who carried her dead calf for 17 days. Of course whales would feel loneliness if they feel grief? That same year a record number of whales washed up along the California coast. I remember walking along Ocean Beach and weeping at the sight of thousand pound blue whale on the shore unsure what to do with the grief I felt about its death. Something about whales helps me feel more, perhaps it's their strange songs I can't understand...and sometimes they can't even understand their own. As the case with the Loneliest Whale, a soul whose tale/tale continues to intrigue and inspire the human animal world.
In 1989 the Navy detected a sound from under the ocean they had never heard before. Years later it was believed to be a whale, now known as the Loneliest Whale--aka the 52-Hertz Whale. Nicknamed for their song at 52-hertz, a frequency three times higher than other whales, scientists believe the whale had been roaming the oceans alone for decades because no other whales could hear its call.
I first heard about the Loneliest Whale around 7 years ago when a friend showed me a video about it and I heard its song. A hybrid of fin and blue whale with a siren song, so different from other whales they couldn't hear them. Overcome with sadness, I wept at the image of a whale roaming the oceans alone for decades. The devastation of that kind of loneliness seemed unimaginable...to constantly call out and have no one hear you.
This sad story perhaps reflects the worst nightmare for so many, loneliness that lasts a lifetime and not just during a pandemic. To not be heard nor seen by anyone, to be the consummate outsider. Of course this story requires us to examine our own projections onto this being to avoid anthropomorphizing too much. Though we know whales exist in complex communities of sound. Communities and families that originated 50 million years ago and some of the oldest creatures on Earth.
When I saw a new documentary about The Loneliest Whale, executive produced by Leo DiCaprio I was hesitant, worried the sadness would overtake me. Something I hadn't realized before was that no one had actually seen this whale, only heard its song using U.S. Navy underwater systems. The film attempts o find this lost and lonely soul and attempts a massive undertaking to find this untracked and unseen whale in the vast ocean along the coast of California. The crew instead discovers something even more fascinating than the whale itself.
After a 10-day search in the ocean coastline, when it seemed the story was over...a 52-hertz frequency sound was found in two different locations. Meaning two separate whales were now making the same sound. The implications of turning this once devastating discovery into a revolutionary revelation changing everything scientists thought we knew about this ocean creature. While it isn’t entirely clear yet what this information means and the film certainly leaves it open for interpretation. The takeaways point to a sense of relief that this whale has a friend, or a partner, after all. Or perhaps that it’s possible for life to evolve towards connection and synchronization even in the seemingly endless ocean.
I also watched the documentary Fathom on Apple TV, with a scientist attempting to understand how whale song spreads across the ocean. Because it's possible the Lonely Whale team actually found a group of hybrid whales, communicating with this unique frequency. Perhaps the 52-Hertz whale may be a member of this group and sometimes takes off and does it's own thing. Maybe other groups of this type of whale exist all over the world and the song is spreading.
Either way, the Loneliest Whale needs a new name, a soul who is teaching us about our assumptions of connection and evolution. It maybe isn't so lonely afterall, so perhaps neither are wel.
Perhaps a genetic deviation destined to extinction, we don't know if other whales can hear this outsider who stands out. WE don't know if it can hear others.
Assumptions abou gender, bc usually male whales sing, but this is unclear. last recorded in 2004,
research it is higher pitched and changing calls becuase of sea noise pollution