Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Lonely Leviathan


He is a lone voice crying out for love in the wilderness. For years he has roamed singing unrequited songs of yearning, searching for a soul to share his solitary world. His plaintive love songs have been heard by many yet he has never been seen. He is the loneliest whale in the world. 

He has been tracked by scientists since 1989 as he migrates up and down the Pacific north-west coast of North America.  Throughout his journey, he cries out in long, low moans.  Sadly, his musical mating calls ring through the vastness of the ocean without reply.  Although he swims in waters populated by thousands  of other whales, no female will respond because his voice is unusually high for a whale.  His voice rings at about 52 Hertz, which is what researchers have named him.

Though 52 Hertz has never been seen many have heard his watery love songs, recorded by scientists and US navy sonar detectors.  Although his voice would sound deep to us, it is extremely high-pitched when compared to other large whales.  A regular blue or fin whale sings at about 15 to 20 Hertz.

Scientists are not even sure as to what species he is.  His calls are shorter, but more frequent than other whales.  Scientist believe he might be a hybrid of a blue whale and a fin whale or even a blue whale with a physical deformity that causes him to sing at 52 Hertz.

This whale's distinctive voice has never been heard accompanied by another whale, which has allowed scientists to track him closely.  William Watkins of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who invented the first underwater recording system, first heard 52 Hertz's unique song in 1989 while studying the mating calls of male whales.

The US navy's hydrophone system, designed to track Soviet nuclear submarines during the Cold War, recorded his migratory patterns in great detail each year as the whale travelled from central California to the Aleutian Islands.  Unfortunately, the navy only releases data days after 52 Hertz has moved on, making it too late for scientists to observe him in person.

As sad as his story may seem, he has acquired numerous admirers who seem to relate.  The interest of his admirers has helped promote greater study of the ocean's giants.

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