the loneliest whale in the world
The 52-hertz whale is an individual whale of unidentified species, which calls at the very unusual frequency of 52 Hz. This pitch is a much higher frequency than that of the other whale species with migration patterns most closely resembling this whale’s – the blue whale (10–39 Hz) or fin whale (20 Hz). It has been detected regularly in many locations since the 1980s and appears to be the only individual emitting a whale call at this frequency. It has been described as the “world’s loneliest whale”.
The sonic signature is that of a whale, albeit at a unique frequency. At 52 hertz, it is just higher than the lowest note on a tuba. The call patterns resemble neither blue nor fin whales, being much higher in frequency, shorter, and more frequent. Blue whales usually vocalize at 10–39 Hz, fin whales at 20 Hz. The 52-hertz calls of this whale are highly variable in their pattern of repetition, duration, and sequence, although they are identifiable easily due to their frequency and characteristic clustering. They have deepened slightly since 1992, suggesting the whale has grown or matured.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been unable to identify the species of the whale. They speculate that it could be malformed, or a hybrid of a blue whale and another species. The research team has been contacted by deaf people who believe the whale may be deaf.
The track of the 52-hertz whale is unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species. Its movements have been somewhat similar to that of blue whales, but its timing has been more like that of fin whales…
Many types of idiosyncratic whale calls have been detected, and some studies suggest that groups of whales living in particular regions have dialects. When you consider that, the 52Hz whale is “not completely mind-bogglingly unique,” he says.
Furthermore, Clark and others reject the idea held by some that the 52Hz whale cannot be heard or understood by “normal” blue whales that make lower-frequency calls. “The animal’s singing with a lot of the same features of a typical blue whale song,” he says. “Blue whales, fin whales and humpback whales: all these whales can hear this guy, they’re not deaf. He’s just odd.”…
The whale’s call has been gradually deepening and is expected to be closer to 47Hz today, though it’s been a few years since any recordings were identified.
It’s not alone. Blue whales around the world have been singing at steadily deeper pitches since the 1960s, according to a study Hildebrand published in 2009. This suggests some kind of relationship between the 52Hz whale and blue whales. North Atlantic right whales for example are different – their calls have actually been rising in tone over time.
Nobody knows why whales change their calls like this. In 2009, Hildebrand and his colleague Mark McDonald suggested that blue whales were deepening their calls to make them stand out against shipping noise, which threatens to drown them out.
But that looks wrong, says Hildebrand. “It turns out that, by deepening the pitch of the song, the whales are actually shifting into an area where there’s more noise, not less.”
Whales respond to man-made noise in an unpredictable way, says Clark. He has watched what happens when an oil and gas exploration ship approaches singing whales and sets off explosives to discover fossil fuel deposits beneath the seabed.
Sometimes the whales’ response is dramatic. “In many cases the whales will change their whole behaviour,” says Clark. “Males will stop singing, there’ll be a quieting of the whole acoustic scene, they’ll move out of the whole area.” But not always. “At other times it won’t make any difference.”
Maybe the whales are changing their songs for another reason entirely. Hildebrand suggests that blue whales are competing with each other to be deeper, season after season.
“If the guy next to you is signing a little deeper than you, you better move down to synchronise,” he says. “We see this. Every season they listen to each other and synchronise their songs.”
Hybrids of fin whales and blue whales are well-documented and can be identified, according to John Calambokidis of the non-profit organisation Cascadia Research in Olympia, Washington. For instance, their body shape is often similar to that of a fin whale, but with a larger snout and flippers like a blue whale.
What they can’t tell us is what is going on inside the whale’s head. The 52Hz whale may feel lonely, as Zeman suggests, but it’s equally possible that it doesn’t. There’s certainly no reason to assume it does.
I also came across this in the midst of my search: Dolphins & Whale sounds, 11 hrs. Friendly (Possibly) Dolphins & Whales singing – Nature sounds