52-hertz whale

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A spectrogram of the 52-hertz signal

The 52-hertz whale is an individual whale of unidentified species which calls at the very unusual frequency of 52 Hz. This pitch is a much higher frequency than that of the other whale species with migration patterns most closely resembling this whale's[1] – the blue whale (10–39 Hz)[2] or fin whale (20 Hz).[1] It has been detected regularly in many locations since the late 1980s and appears to be the only individual emitting a whale call at this frequency. It has been described as the "world's loneliest whale".[3][4]


The sonic signature is that of a whale, albeit at a unique frequency. At 52 hertz, it is a little higher than the lowest note on a double bass. The call patterns resemble neither blue nor fin whales, being much higher in frequency, shorter, and more frequent.[5] Blue whales usually vocalize at 10–39 Hz,[2] fin whales at 20 Hz.[1] The 52-hertz calls of this whale are highly variable in their pattern of repetition, duration, and sequence, although they are easily identifiable due to their frequency and characteristic clustering.[6] The calls have deepened slightly to around 50 hertz since 1992, suggesting the whale has grown or matured.[4]

The track of the 52-hertz whale is unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species.[7] Its movements have been somewhat similar to that of blue whales, but its timing has been more like that of fin whales.[6] 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 2002–03.[8]

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 possibly a blue whale/fin whale hybrid.[7] The research team has been contacted by deaf people who believe the whale may be deaf.[citation needed]

Whatever biological cause underlies its unusually high frequency voice does not seem to be detrimental to its survival. The fact that the whale has survived and apparently matured indicates it is probably healthy. Still, its unique call is the only one of its kind detected anywhere and there is only one such source per season.[8] Because of this, the animal has been called the loneliest whale in the world.[5][9][10]


Approximate map of the 52-hertz whale's migration range

The 52-hertz 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.[8] 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.[6][7] As of 2014, the whale had been detected every year since.[11]

In art[edit]


The animated short film entitled The Phantom 52 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019. The film is written and directed by Geoff Marslett, and stars Tom Skerritt as the loneliest whale. The Phantom 52 went on to play at over 60 film festivals worldwide and win a half dozen awards.[12][13]

A feature-length documentary entitled 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale is in production, shot by Joshua Zeman, the director of Cropsey, and produced by Adrian Grenier. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign,[14] the film was due for release sometime in 2018 but has not been released.[15][16]

The Loneliest, a short mockumentary film about two women searching for the loneliest whale, was made in April 2014 by Lilian Mehrel, with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.[17][18]

Stare Yıldırım's 2018 film My Name is Batlir, Not Butler features the 52-hertz whale as both a character (mostly represented by a photo and voice-over) and as a metaphor for the loneliness of those who are different.[19]

The Taiwanese movie 52Hz, I Love You's title is inspired by the whale, using it as a metaphor for the loneliness experienced when looking for love.


Montreal-based saxophone player and composer Colin Stetson's 2013 album New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light included a song entitled "Part of Me Apart From You". Though not explicitly written about the 52-hertz whale, when first performing the song live, he has remarked on at least several occasions that the story of the "loneliest whale" resonated deeply with his composition. "This whale is alone in a large body of water, swimming, singing its song, calling for a likeness it will never find," he said by way of introducing the song at a performance at Toronto's Great Hall on 19 May 2013. "When I play this song, I can't help but think about this whale, who right at this very minute is singing alone."[20]

South Korean group BTS's 2015 album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2 includes the track "Whalien 52", which explicitly uses the 52-hertz whale as a metaphor for the alienation from others often felt by adolescents.[21]

The English folk duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman included the song "52 Hertz" on their 2015 album Tomorrow Will Follow Today. The song is about the whale and includes the line, "52 Hertz, 52 Hertz, I'm singing a love song that no-one can hear" in the chorus.[22]

In 2018, American singer Chrysta Bell released a song called "52 Hz", inspired by the whale.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Copley, John (10 December 2004). "Lonely whale's song remains a mystery". New Scientist. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Blue Whale". Bioacoustics Research Program. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Archived from the original on 26 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  3. ^ Fessenden, Marissa (15 April 2015). "Maybe the World's Loneliest Whale Isn't So Isolated, After All". Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  4. ^ a b Watkins, William A.; Daher, Mary Ann; George, Joseph E.; Rodriguez, David (December 2004). "Twelve years of tracking 52-Hz whale calls from a unique source in the North Pacific". Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers. 51 (12): 1889–1901. doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2004.08.006.
  5. ^ a b Nelson, Bryan (20 May 2012). "52 Hertz: The Loneliest Whale in the World". Animal Planet. Discovery Communications. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  6. ^ 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 (Report). Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Technical report. WHOI-00-02. doi:10.1575/1912/350. hdl:1912/350.
  7. ^ a b c Revkin, Andrew C. (21 December 2004). "Song of the Sea, a Cappella and Unanswered". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Lippsett, Lonny (5 April 2005). "A Lone Voice Crying in the Watery Wilderness (with a graphic of tracking during twelve year period)". Oceanus. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  9. ^ Willingham, Emily (31 March 2011). "52-Hertz song of world's loneliest whale". EarthSky. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  10. ^ Anderson, Ben (5 January 2011). "'World's loneliest whale' pays visit to Alaska". Alaska Dispatch. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  11. ^ Mulvaney, Kieran (26 January 2017). "The loneliest whale in the world?". Washington Post. Animation and illustrations by Phil Borst. Retrieved 23 February 2017.[dead link]
  12. ^ "The Phantom 52". Sundance Insititute. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  13. ^ The Phantom 52 on IMDb
  14. ^ "Help Find the Lonely Whale with Adrian Grenier & Josh Zeman". Kickstarter. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Home". 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  16. ^ Finding 52 on IMDb
  17. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (17 February 2015). "Filmmakers Set Sights on '52', the World's Loneliest Whale". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "The Loneliest (a short film by Lilian Mehrel)". Archived from the original on 1 March 2015.
  19. ^ "My Name is Batlir, not Butler". FilmFreeway. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  20. ^ Monroe, Jazz (20 May 2013). "Colin Stetson – The Great Hall, Toronto ON, May 19". exclaim!. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  21. ^ Benjamin, Jeff (2 December 2015). "BTS Succeeds With Mixed Styles, Emotions on 'Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2'". Billboard. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman – Tomorrow Will Follow Today". Folk Radio UK – Folk Music Magazine. 25 February 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  23. ^ "Sensual new Chrysta Bell single '52 Hz'". BlackBook. Retrieved 1 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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