Whales, like many mammals, are social animals. Some travel in groups, called “pods,” while some travel alone. Some whale species, like the blue whale and the humpback, are also known to communicate with each other by making vocalizations, called “whale songs.” Although researchers have yet to fully understand the hows and whys of whale songs, they do notice that whales’ karaoke night frequently happens during mating seasons, which suggests that whales use some sort of cetaceous pickup lines—or perhaps “love songs,” that invite the females to mate. Their songs are heard by other whales for thousands of kilometers.
These whales either sing alone, or in a group. They may sing together, in tune with one another. (A choir made up of humpbacks is awesome. I am picturing them in my head right now—with their mouths open, of course.)
Some researchers even suggest that whales recognize each other by the song they are singing, even those coming from a different pod. Of course, different researchers have different ideas on what these songs mean. But many agree that the sounds produced by these majestic creatures are often beautiful, sad, and haunting.
But what happens if a whale’s song is unheard by other whales? Whale songs are sung in a particular frequency, so that other whales can hear them. What if a whale sings in a different frequency?
For years, a whale has been doing this, singing a song that no other whales can hear. It has been roaming the world’s oceans, alone. The whale belongs to no pod—it has no family, no friends, no partner. It doesn’t even follow the usual whale migration route.
The whale first caught the attention of the U. S. Navy in 1989 when their instruments (hydrophones built to track submarine movements) picked up an unusual frequency coming from the whale. It had all the characteristics of a whale song, but the whale has been singing a song at a frequency that no other whales can hear. Whales usually sing between 15 and 25 hertz; the forever alone whale, on the other hand, sings at 52 hertz. The whale might as well have been speaking in Klingon to a group of Hmongs. Members of the team that track down this whale say that “all signs are that the sounds come from a single animal, whose movements ‘appear to be unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species.’”
They recorded that distinctive whale song again in 1990 and 1991.
Nobody knows for sure what species this whale is, but with its unique call, scientists can easily track the whale. They call this whale The Loneliest Whale in the World. The whale swims on, year after year, singing its own beautiful, mournful and haunting song, unheard and unanswered.
At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, scientists stated that the whale’s voice has since deepened, compared to its voice in 1992. The whale may have grown up since then.
They speculated that the whale might be a hybrid between a blue whale and another species, or else a malformed whale. The research team was even contacted by deaf people who suggest that the whale might be deaf. Or maybe it is the last surviving member of an extinct species, in which case it truly is the world’s loneliest whale.
It has been tracked as far north as Aleutian and Kodiak Islands, and as far south as the coast of California. The whale swims about 30 to 70 kilometers each day, and the longest distance it traveled in one season was reported to be more than 11,000 kilometers, recorded in 2002-2003.
In the whale’s case, loneliness does not seem to affect its health. It has survived for all these years being alone, singing its own song. What do you suppose it's thinking? Maybe it gets puzzled sometimes?
“I keep calling out to them, why wouldn’t anybody out there answer me? Hello? Hello!”
Then again, the whale might be the cetacean equivalent of an antisocial geek, who shuns other whales. But I don't think so.
Whatever he is, I hope he doesn't give up; I hope someday he would find another who can hear him sing. He is still out there, swimming by himself, singing his heart out, his voice reverberating in the cold waters of the North Pacific.
And who knows? Maybe someday another whale will hear his song at 52 hertz.