52 Hertz: Researchers Plan Hunt For World’s Loneliest Whale

Researchers are planning an expedition to locate a whale known to its fans as 52 hertz, considered the “loneliest whale in the world” due to its unusually high pitched song.

Though scientists know what 52 sounds like, having long detected its unique song, they have no idea what the whale looks like, or even what species it is. The animal is believed to be either a fin whale or blue whale, earning his moniker as the world’s “loneliest” whale because over the 20 years researchers have detected the unknown male’s songs, they have never noted a response.

The whale sings at a frequency unused by others of its kind in the North Pacific, in a pattern recognizable as that of a blue whale, but at an utterly unheard-of amplitude of 52 hertz. Blue whales sing at 15 to 20 hertz, making 52 an off-the-scale individual. The highly unusual nature of the animal’s song has lead researchers at Woods Hole to postulate that the whale may possibly be a hybrid.

Josh Zeman, a 40-year-old filmmaker based in Los Angeles, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to find and tag whale 52, teaming with Entourage star Adrian Grenier and a group of marine biologists to attempt raising $300,000 in funds. The money will be used to finance a 20-day-expedition, 400 miles off the California coast, aimed at finding whale 52. If the funding goal is reached, the mission will take place this autumn, and a documentary about the search for whale 52 will be filmed as well.

“Using state of the art technology, our goal is to be the first expedition ever to tag and acoustically monitor a hybrid whale using non-invasive tags. At the same time, we will also be collecting data in an effort to help scientists measure the growing threat of ocean noise pollution that is harming cetaceans all across the planet including whales.”

First recorded by underwater hydrophones used to hunt submarines, 52 was documented by Dr. William Watkins of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who studied the whale from 1989 onwards. In 2004, Watkins and his team published their findings about 52 hertz, which brought the whale’s unique situation into the public consciousness.

Though the expedition is far from the first to tag undersea animals, Zeman noted that he wishes to find the whale for all of its fans, describing 52 hertz as “inspirational.”

[Photo by Larry Busacca/ Getty Images]