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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The 52 Hz Whale

The loneliest whale in the world?

Somewhere in the ocean, there is a whale with a very unusual call, with a frequency of 52 Hertz. The call of this whale does not resemble the calls of known whale species. For example, a blue whale's call is between 10 and 40 Hz, and a fin whale is 20 Hz.
Spectogram of the signal from the
52Hz whale

The 52 Hz whale was first recorded in the 1980s and has been detected many time since, in different areas of the ocean. Some people think this whale is the last of its kind and is hopelessly searching the ocean for a mate.

The first recording of the whale's call was made in 1989. It was detected every year afterwards as well, at least up to 2004. Bill Watkins, a marine mammal researcher who worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, first realized the significance of the first recordings of the whale made by the Navy in 1989. He researched the mystery whale until his death in 2004, and found that it seemed to be a unique animal. As in, possibly the only one of its kind. Watkins wrote:
"It is perhaps difficult to accept that if this was a whale, that there could have been only one of this kind in this large ocean expanse. Yet in spite of comprehensive careful monitoring year-round, only one call with these characteristics has been found anywhere, and there has been only one such source each season."

So, what is the 52 Hz whale? Some think it is a malformed or hybrid blue whale or a different species. The WHOI has even been contacted by people who are deaf who believe the whale may also be deaf, and that is why it seems to be hopelessly searching for another of its kind.

Christopher Willes Clark, who made recordings of the whale in 1993, does not think it is "one of a kind," but just a "different" whale of a normal species. He has said:  "The animal's singing with a lot of the same features of a typical blue whale song. Blue whales, fin whale and humpback whales: all theses whales can hear this guy, they're not deaf. He's just odd."

Over time, the whale's calls have deepened and now they are around 47 Hz. An interesting note is that calls from blue whales have also been changing to deeper pitches since the 1960s.

Currently, a documentary is also being made on the "loneliest whale." Find out more about it here.

Listen to the whale's call below:

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