The loneliest whale in the world has been tracked by scientists since 1989, migrating along the Pacific NW coast of North America. But although he swims in waters populated by thousands of other whales, no female ever responds, because his voice is unusually high for a whale - about 52 Hertz. And that's what researchers have named him.
To us, his voice (at 52Hz) sounds deep, like the lowest note on a tuba, but it's extremely high-pitched for a large whale, like playing a piccolo at a Deep Purple concert. Blue and fin whales sing at about 15-20Hz: a bone-shaking low-bass rumble below the range of our hearing. Even if 52 Hertz is a firm-bodied sexy macho male whale, it's hard to attract a female with a high-pitched voice!
Though 52 Hertz has never been seen, many have heard him. People identify with this animal who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere, does not make friends, feels alone and different from others.
Scientists aren't sure what type of whale he is, if he's an unknown hybrid, or has a physical deformity causing him to sing at that frequency. His calls are shorter but more frequent than other whales, as if he speaks his own language. Yet his distinctive solitary voice, never heard in the company of another whale, allows scientists to track him closely. The US Navy records his migratory patterns in great detail each year, cruising from central California to the Aleutian Islands in the north Pacific. He always travels solo, up to 65km a day and one year covered more than 11,000km.
The lonely whale's story has inspired several musicians and writers, and a tv documentary is being filmed.
Of course scientists cannot know what lies in the heart and mind of a whale, no matter how alone. The supposed emotional yearnings of 52 Hertz may say more about the humans who hear his story than it does about the whale himself...