52 Hertz Whale:
Is Anyone Out There?
Each year he makes his migration south from the Aleutian Islands to a breeding area in the Pacific Ocean parallel to Central California, looking for a mate. Unlike other blue and fin whales, his more than 6000 miles a year round-trip swim is a solitary one. He does not travel along with the blues or the fins, because he is neither. He is most probably either a hybrid blue whale or he is deformed. Sight and smell are virtually worthless as mating signals in the ocean depths, so whales and some other marine denizens rely on their highly complex “love songs” to find his true love. A whale love song has a specific syntax and repeated refrains much like our human songs. A whale composition can last 20 hours. But our one-of-a-kind whale’s songs are ignored each year, because he sings in a 52-Hertz frequency, making his voice much higher pitched than those of the blue or fin whales, typically in the 15-20 hertz range. He is left to make his solitary swim back to the Aleutian’s each year, once again unrequited in love and with no prospects of his condition changing next year.
Do we presume too much by anthropomorphizing that the 52-Hertz Whale is lonely and lovelorn because of his isolation and rejection? Or do these ocean dwellers, not fish but complex-brained mammals of long evolution like us, feel emotions and heartache of a level and intensity similar to our own?
he’s become an international folk hero star with a kickstarter documentary
In Germany, author Agnieszka Jurek has written and illustrated a children’s book about him. British rock band Dalmatian Rex as well as American songwriters Kate Micucci and Laura Ann Bates have recorded songs about him. Film Director Josh Zeman and Documentary Producer Adrian Grenier have embarked on a A Kickstarter-financed documentary film about 52-Hertz Whale that is currently in pre-production. None of this can be of any solace to the 52-Hertz Whale. He is “deaf” to all of it. He speaks and possibly understands only one language — a language most likely only spoken by him. A quirk in evolution led his ancestors back out into the ocean, meaning he would have no hands to write, or paint, or sculpt, or play a musical instrument, or operate a camera. Other than some physically bravadic displays that might suggest dancing, the whale’s song is his sole medium of expression.
There is an immediate exquisite dark humor to be savored in the story of the predicament of the 52-Hertz Whale. But there is also a heartbreaking resonance — an echoing back to each of us that each of us can relate to: that moment when we came to realize and tried to accept that the focus of our heart’s desire, the person into whom we’d already invested so much of our deepest and most sincere love… would not be returning the sentiment; not now and not ever. Each of had to wake up the next day and live on — with there being no reason to live on. Each of us knows (or will one day know) what it is to be a 52-Hertz whale. Each of us has been out there, alone, adrift and treading water in a darkening sea of total despair and hopelessness.
There are no monuments built in the ocean’s depths to mark the lives of our mammalian cousins who reside within the Seven Seas, no record-keeping to tell the tale of a special whale with the most unique singing voice in the whole world – a unique voice that brought him only loneliness and eternal yearning. A whale’s life “history” ends with the last note sung from his last song. Those of us with more media for expression must be the ones to immortalize his story. With the following gallery of deviants’ tributes to “52-Hertz,” we hope to begin the process of making sure his life’s lonely journey is never forgotten.
Director/Producer Joshua Zeman with Executive Producer Adrian Grenier
Behind the scenes of the documentary
Join Adrian Grenier, Josh Zeman & world renowned scientists to find the illusive 52-Hertz Whale and fight Ocean Noise Pollution.
While some Kickstarter crowd-sourced productions have been obvious vanity projects, the 52-Hertz Whale is just the sort of international phenomenon that commands the overwhelming public interest that the crowd-sourced model was created to address.
Here is a story that involves the probable extinction of a type of whale naturalists didn’t know exists, so it’s about the accelerating erosion of our environment.
Here is a story about unrequited “love” – told in song – that resonates between different species of intelligent self-aware mammals.
Here is a story of loneliness to last for the ages, a story of hopelessness and hopefulness that communicates across all the world’s cultural barriers.
This solitary creature of the sea has managed to touch and connect the hearts of all humans who honor those who choose to live their lives despite relentless sorrow and struggle.
You can participate in the Kickstarter campaign to help find the lonely whale.
Interview with Adrian Grenier About his new documentary 52-Hertz Whale
The 52-Hertz Whale, which has become an iconic symbol of ultimate loneliness, has been mostly only heard and barely photographed, taking on a near mythical persona. Your documentary will finally present the flesh-and-blood reality of this most unique creature. Why did you want make the considerable effort to produce a film about this whale? Has your initial perspective changed since you began this quest?
I think that because lonely whale is such a symbolic figure, he will be able to inspire great empathy in people; I was very much interested in exploring all the different ways in which this mythic creature could touch our hearts and motivate us to connect more fully with what's important to us as humans — connecting with others and appreciating our differences.
My perspective has grown and expanded to reach a depth worth of the deepest ocean. Lonely whale is full of nuances and subtleties; his story reflects many different themes and ideas, not just loneliness but those of respecting the environment, interesting history, science, technology and of course our existential condition of loneliness.
Executive Producer Adrian Grenier
An aerial view of a blue whale, NOAA
Are you more interested in the resonance this “lonely in love” whale’s story has created in a worldwide audience or the puzzle of this whale’s initial “appearance” on the sonar of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1989 and his very existence as a one-of-kind in the world? Or do all these conundrums taken together simply have the makings for a phenomenal documentary?
Certainly all of the elements are part of the story and will, in fact, make a fantastic documentary; so I don't think you can extract one from the other. What makes this such an interesting story is how dynamic and far-reaching the story of this single whale will resonate.
Do you have your own personal theory of what (or should we say, “who”) exactly the 52-Hertz Whale “is?” The very last of a hitherto undiscovered species of whale? A hybrid mix, the love child of a blue and a fin whale? A genetically mutated blue whale?
I'll leave the science to the experts, but as a storyteller and filmmaker, I like to focus on the symbolic and metaphoric context of lonely whale's mythology.
Dr. William Watkins tracking of the 52-Hertz Whale
There has been so much research indicating that whales (as well as dolphins) have evolved the same levels of intelligence and emotion as human beings. This fact has been hidden by their absence of hands, which has made civilization-building impossible (and confused them with being “fish”). Do you think he is genuinely perceptually aware of his hopeless situation and truly experiencing the palpable agony of his unending separation, much as any of us would feel it?
I think the answer to this question is less about whether or not lonely whale is aware of his own emotional state as it is about whether or not we are even human if we can't find compassion and use our imagination to empathize and connect with others that are different or who are perhaps on another frequency. It is the most coveted ability for empathy for the world outside ourselves that makes us the most human.
Adrian would like to see what the story of lonely whale inspires in you.
From your unique perspective, what would a portrait of 52-Hertz Whale look like?
What would his lament be in poetic verse?
Submit to DA with hashtag #LonelyWhale
Share your submissions in the comments below. We will showcase the best of the submitted works in a Stock Market feature on the Today Page!
Featured Whale Gallery
This is one of my favorite paintings I’ve done. In some way or another, we all have a profound longing to be heard, to be seen and to be known. And many of us go on our way without that happening and live in an incredible loneliness. Either there is no one out there, or we put on a mask and hide behind our shame and sins. We let no one know us, hear us, or see us as we are. I didn’t let anybody know me as I truly was. I was too afraid of rejection and being “found out” so I never really let anybody know and love me. And so it was my own fault that I lived in an incredible loneliness. I genuinely found encouragement by this whale to choose to trust others and let them love me through real friendship. The 52-Hertz Whale was such a strange and inspiring story that changed my perspective to help me see that I have an opportunity to be loved and heard. I just have to allow it. The whale, on the other hand, has no opportunity. The least I could do was to do a painting.”
The existence of 52–Hertz Whale is heart-wrenching, but the fact that we’ve drawn on him to be symbolic of loneliness—or strength in loneliness—says a lot about us and our need to be understood, to battle loneliness, even just our need to help others connect. We craft stories about him, for him, and in that small way, even though he’ll never know, there are many who do relate to him even though they don’t speak his same language which is meaningful in so many ways. It’s a testament, I think, to the strength of humanity that we have become so attached to this lonely whale. We relate to him, we believe we understand him, even though the 52-Hertz Whale will never truly be understood.”
- So much research indicates that whales (as well as dolphins) have evolved the same levels of intelligence and emotion as human beings. Do you think that the case of the 52-Hertz Whale goes beyond anthropomorphism – and that we are falsely attributing “loneliness” to his state of being? Do you think he is genuinely perceptually aware of his hopeless situation and truly experiencing the mental agony of his unending separation, much as any of us would feel it?
- What was your first reaction or feeling to finding out about the one-of-a-kind whale doomed to forever traverse the ocean each year, singing a love song that will never be answered?
- Why do you think people so often respond with more sympathy to the plight of animals than they do that of other humans?
- What is the message from this story that is resonating so deeply with people around the world?