The World’s Loneliest Whale Has Been Looking for a Mate for Two Decades Now 

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The World’s Loneliest Whale Has Been Looking for a Mate for Two Decades Now 


You’ve never known loneliness if you’ve never heard of the world’s loneliest whale. 

Why exactly is he lonely? According to the BBC, an international broadcast and online news source, this whale has been calling out for a mate for two decades to no success. His whale song is at 52 hertz, which is directly the reason why his song is never heard, as most whales communicate at a pitch of only 10 to 40 hertz. The lonely whale’s song is so high-pitched that the other whales most likely don’t hear it so they don’t respond. 

The discovery of this whale’s existence—and his loveless loneliness—began in 1990 and 1991 when William Watkins of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts first picked up his sound in 1989. 


Photo Credit: Mark Carwardine / NPL (via BBC)


The Washington Post wrote: “One of the pioneers in the field of marine mammal bioacoustics, he [Watkins] discovered a unique and unexpected signal in the North Pacific in 1989. The signal was of a whale traveling in much the same way and area as blue and fin whales in the region, but this one was vocalizing on an entirely different frequency: 52 hertz. Still profoundly deep by human standards but far higher than the 15- to 25-hertz range of most blues and fins. 

Fascinated, Watkins began recording the song of this whale each year over a span of 12 years. 

They would usually pick the sound up around August or September, during which they will follow it until it disappeared in January or early February. Although Watkins died in 2004, the story of the lonely whale reached national recognition due to the study being published in the journal Deep Sea Research. Public clamor for the research urged scientists and the general media to ask, “If the whale was communicating at a different frequency than others of its kind, then would others even hear it?” 


Photo By: Kerry Hargrove via Shutterstock


The mating song theory, after scouring sources, seems more like speculation rather than the truth, though, and just recently, a Kickstarter campaign has been started by American filmmaker Josh Zeman and actor Adrian Grenier. 

Naturally, it garnered tons of support. This support blew away even Mary Ann Daher of the Woods Hole, who said that people would send her emails and requests begging to continue the research. But since Daher was not comfortable touching Watkins’ work (what with the scientist himself adamant on keeping his research from getting too commercialized), she still acknowledged that people identified with the 52-hertz whale in their own ways. 

Daher sadly won’t be taking up the task of finding the elusive lonely whale, but someone else is thinking about it. According to BBC Earth, Zeman and Grenier were thinking of looking for the whale and making a documentary about it. 


Photo By: Sergey Uryadnikov via Shutterstock


Though it sounds as noble an undertaking as any—finding a lonely whale and explaining its plight to audiences—some critics have come forward to question whether or not it was worth pursuing. Cornell University critic Christopher Willes Clark said lots of other whales with high-pitched sound have been recorded before. This was no exception. 

But Zeman replied: “Definitely we speak in hyperbole. Is he the loneliest whale? But to ask if the whale is lonely—I don’t think that’s so far off the mark. My goal is to ask scientists to really consider this.”




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