52-hertz whale

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A spectrogram of the 52-hertz signal

The 52-hertz whale is an individual of unidentified whale species, which has been regularly detected in many locations since the 1980s, calling at the very unusual frequency of 52 Hz. This pitch is a much higher frequency than that of the Blue Whale (15-20Hz) or Fin Whale (20Hz), whose migration patterns it is most similar to.[1] It appears to be the only individual with this call, and has hence been described as the world's loneliest whale.


The signal was recorded in the northeast Pacific. It has been sped up ten times, raising the pitch to 520 Hz.

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The sonic signature is that of a whale, albeit at a unique frequency. At 52 hertz, it is just higher than the lowest note on a tuba.[2] The call patterns resemble neither blue nor fin whales, being shorter, more frequent, and much higher in frequency.[3] Blue whales usually vocalize at 15–20 Hz, fin whales at 20 Hz.[1] The 52-hertz signals are highly variable in their pattern of repetition, duration, and sequence, although they are easily identifiable due to their frequency and characteristic clustering.[4]

The track of the 52-hertz whale is unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species.[2] Its movements have been somewhat similar to that of blue whales, but its timing has been more like that of fin whales.[4] It is detected in the Pacific Ocean every year beginning in August–December, and moves out of range of the hydrophones in January–February. It travels as far north as the Aleutian and Kodiak Islands, and as far south as the California coast, swimming between 30 and 70 km each day. Its (recorded) distance traveled per season has ranged from a low of 708 km to a high of 11,062 km in 2002–2003.[5]

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been unable to identify the species of the whale. They speculate that it could be malformed, or a hybrid of a blue whale and another species.[2] According to the New York Times, the research team has been contacted by deaf people who believe the whale may be deaf.[2] Its voice has deepened slightly since 1992, suggesting that it has grown or matured.[3] Whatever biological cause underlies its unusually high voice does not seem to be detrimental to its survival. The fact that the whale has survived and apparently matured indicates that it is probably healthy. Still, it is the only one of its kind detected anywhere, and there is only one such source per season.[5] Because of this, the animal has been called the loneliest whale in the world.[3][6][7]


The whale was discovered by a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Its call was first detected in 1989, then again in 1990 and 1991.[5] In 1992, following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy partially declassified the recordings and technical specifications of its SOSUS anti-submarine hydrophone arrays, and made SOSUS available for oceanographic research.[2][4] As of 2004, the whale had been detected every year since.[5] Research by scientists at Woods Hole has been supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, in addition to the Navy.[5]


A feature-length documentary entitled Finding 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World is currently being shot by Joshua Zeman, the director of Cropsey.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Copley, John (10 December 2004). "Lonely whale's song remains a mystery". New Scientist. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Revkin, Andrew C. (December 21, 2004). "Song of the Sea, a Cappella and Unanswered". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Nelson, Bryan (2012-05-20). "52 Hertz: The Loneliest Whale in the World". Discovery.com. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  4. ^ a b c Watkins, William A.; George, Joseph E.; Daher, Mary Ann; Mullin, Kristina; Martin, Darel L.; Haga, Scott H.; DiMarzio, Nancy A. February 2000. "Whale call data for the North Pacific: November 1995 through July 1999 occurrence of calling whales and source locations from SOSUS and other acoustic systems". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Technical report. WHOI-00-02.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lippsett, Lonny (5 April 2005). "A Lone Voice Crying in the Watery Wilderness". Oceanus. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Willingham, Emily (2011-03-31). "52-Hertz song of world's loneliest whale". EarthSky. Retrieved 2012-09-23. 
  7. ^ Anderson, Ben (2011-01-05). "'World's loneliest whale' pays visit to Alaska". Alaska Dispatch. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  8. ^ "Internet Movie Data Base". IMDB. Retrieved 2013-02-11. 
  9. ^ Sheridan, Peter. "The loneliest whale in the world: The whale whose unique call has stopped him finding love". Daily Express. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

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