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February 6, 2010 9:11 AM   Subscribe

For the past 21 years, across the limitless expanse of the North Pacific, a lonely whale has been singing, calling for a response. There has been none, and there never will.

Picked up first in 1989 by NOAA hydrophones, the call is clearly a whale, but different than all other known species. Different enough that no other whale has responded in all this time. Hypotheses vary, but the mental image is definitely haunting.
posted by Cobalt (88 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want to make a Star Trek joke here, but the actually story is too spooky and depressing for me to do anything other than quietly mourn.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:15 AM on February 6, 2010 [14 favorites]


Don't do this to a gal who sobbed uncontrollably at the end of Orca.
posted by dabitch at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good post. Kind of a sad story. I'm curious as to what this whale looks like. For now, we can make do with this artist's conception.
posted by marxchivist at 9:19 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a 2004 story... Do we know that it's still accurate?
posted by amro at 9:19 AM on February 6, 2010


Failwhale.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:26 AM on February 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


worst. children's book. ever.
posted by availablelight at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2010 [28 favorites]


Is the whale by any chance singing "Night Fever?" I don't know about whales, but I never respond to anyone singing that song. It's so dated.
posted by Dumsnill at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least he gets out of the house.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


How sad. I wonder what suicide methods are open to a whale? Just head towards Japan & hang around?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


The Sleeper Awakes!

Also: Sad. Poor whale.
posted by Decimask at 9:37 AM on February 6, 2010


In 1979, I got this plastic record of humpback whale song, as an insert in an issue of National Geographic, and I kept it and played it periodically, for twenty years, until I finally got rid of my turntable. I put bits of it on mixtapes I was making for girls.

You should've saved this post for Valentine's Day, Cobalt.
posted by steef at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


But yes, it's an interesting and weirdly sad story that I've never seen before, so thanks for posting.
posted by Dumsnill at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2010


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all...

--Emily Dickinson
posted by sallybrown at 9:47 AM on February 6, 2010 [29 favorites]


Lonely whale? Insane whale? Outcast whale?
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone who just changed tabs from sending another introductory email on OkCupid I can relate. I'd like to join this whale's newsletter.
posted by Babblesort at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2010 [25 favorites]


I would like to believe this isn't the sound of a whale at all, but an elaborate scheme by those tricky Russkies to mask their nefarious doings in the North Pacific.

Because the thought that this is a creature forever in the winter of its whale-sized heart is too sad to think.
posted by deCadmus at 10:02 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


He's in love with a lighthouse, poor thing.
posted by redsparkler at 10:03 AM on February 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wanna marry a lighthouse keeper
and keep him company
I wanna marry a lighthouse
and live by the side of the sea
I'll polish his lamp by the light of day
so ships at night can find their way
I wanna marry a lighthouse
won't that be ok

posted by UbuRoivas at 10:05 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:18 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sounds like a lot of WHOI to me.

(But that joke only works if WHOI is pronounced hooey)
posted by MtDewd at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


For the past 21 years, across the limitless expanse of the North Pacific, a lonely whale has been singing, calling for a response.

The article says this whale has been heard for 12 years.

And I'm wondering if this whale might be deaf or have some other organic problem that affects its vocalizations.
posted by orange swan at 10:23 AM on February 6, 2010


Can someone come along and tell me that just because the whale's song isn't being returned that the whale isn't all alone? That maybe he hangs out with other whales who sound different, or that he has a spunky sea turtle sidekick or something?

Can someone please tell me that?
posted by chudmonkey at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2010 [29 favorites]


I went looking for an update on this story and ran across wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_song

"The scientists are unable to explain this dramatic difference from the norm; however, they believe the whale is baleen[13] and unlikely to be a new species,[12] suggesting that currently known species may have a wider vocal range than previously thought. In 2009, researchers found that blue whale song has been deepening in its tonal frequency since the 1960s.[14] While noise pollution has increased ambient ocean noise by over 12 decibels since the mid-20th century, researcher Mark McDonald indicated that higher pitches would be expected if the whales were straining to be heard.[15]"

But I haven't found any mention of the song being heard (or not) since 2004.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


yo dogg we heard you like unbearable sadness so we put a lonely whale in your ocean so you can cry while you cry
posted by Greg Nog at 10:30 AM on February 6, 2010 [108 favorites]


The article says this whale has been heard for 12 years.

the kuro5hin link says "The calls were noticed first in 1989, and have been detected and tracked since 1992," but also says 12 years several times

YET ANOTHER MYSTERY
posted by p3on at 10:33 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with orange swan. I was listening to Robert Kennedy Jr. on the TV as I opened this post, and the first thing that occurred to me is that this whale may not be a different species, but just an individual with a voice problem. Maybe genetic, or deafened by military sonar as a calf. For a whale, that's game over.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:37 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Story isn't sad. The "Whale" (known in sea circles as The Unnamable, the Lost,or other such nonsense) has been calling out to to the Hydrophones ever since it got wind of them. Trust me, the fugimancy of the Celphapadroni and the Sea-Ape make sure "52 Hertz" never makes contact for a very, very good reason.
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


My immediate reaction was the same as one of the K5 commenters' posts: let's answer! We have the technology. We have whaling research ships. Surely they can spend some time with a speaker in the water, giving something like a reply to him. When he arrives, he can be lured closer with -- well, how do you attract baleen whales? They're not going to care about chum. Some nice homegrown phytoplankton, I suppose, or a whale decoy with large eyelashes and big red lips.

It's unclear to me exactly what these people do, but they have a boat in the Pacific and they care about the whale, so I should hope they try on occasion.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:55 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


If only antares and t-pain could somehow reach the wale!
posted by nutate at 10:55 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


subliminally thinking of the rapper instead of the word whale.
posted by nutate at 10:56 AM on February 6, 2010


Baroooooooooo :(
posted by msbutah at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that the sound doesn't match any known whale type. Profoundly creepy.

It's not a whale ... it's a trap.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:03 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


What we don't realize is that when we finally can interpret the message, we will find the numbers 1-10, the atomic numbers of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus...
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Oh hey, I had someone ask about this very sad story recently.

So, it may be that further research about that whale specifically was dropped because William Watkins, lead author on the 2004 paper that sparked all this, unfortunately died that year. The 2004 article was cited nine plus times, but no other scientist seems to have studied that whale or the phenomenon of the lone whale singing alone.

I emailed the second author on the paper, Mary Ann Daher, to see if she knew of continuing research in the area. I'll update if she responds.

Also, for those like me who googled '52 hz whale' and got 52hertz.com, they're a commercial firm that apparently liked the name but have no actual ties to oceanography (they're in Vegas, doing business with IMG).

On a related note, there's a cool Wired story from December 2009 about how blue whale songs are changing (they speculate it's because the whales have bounced back from extinction by hunting and are able to communicate differently with more whales to communicate to). Here's the abstract of the study mentioned.

Such an interesting story--to forever be alone in your song, but only because you're singing it wrong and no other whale will be responding? That's poignant.
posted by librarylis at 11:30 AM on February 6, 2010 [20 favorites]


Glug, glug...blub.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2010


I know little about whales - would the lone whale not also travel to try and find mates? Would it not respond to others calls it hears? Perhaps the distances involved are too large.
posted by kaat at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2010


Stupid whale scientists. They don't know what the Loch Ness Monster sounds like when she gets in open water.
posted by footballrabi at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


My immediate reaction was the same as one of the K5 commenters' posts: let's answer! We have the technology. We have whaling research ships. Surely they can spend some time with a speaker in the water, giving something like a reply to him.

Whale: Hello.
Eliza: How do you do. Please state your problem.
Whale: No other whale seems to understand me.
Eliza: You are being a bit negative.
Whale: I can't help myself.
Eliza: Have you tried ?
Whale: How would I?
Eliza: You say how would you ?
Whale: What?
Eliza: What answer would please you most ?
Whale: A whale answer.
Eliza: Does talking about this bother you ?
Whale: Not as much as being alone.
Eliza: Tell me more about that.
Whale: The other whales won't speak to me.
Eliza: I'm not sure I understand you fully.
posted by Anything at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2010 [39 favorites]


The tracks of the lone whale do not match the migration patterns of any other species, either.

This is the really weird thing. (New Scientist, so pinches of salt.)
posted by Dumsnill at 12:00 PM on February 6, 2010


The article says this whale has been heard for 12 years.

What a strange coincidence, I say, while glaring balefully at my love life or lack thereof.

posted by jokeefe at 12:34 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


That whale had better hope that it's off-tune mating song doesn't strike a chord with whatever behemoth trumpeted the bloop from the South Pacific.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:35 PM on February 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


.
posted by Splunge at 1:04 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is calling for reinforcements, and when the Kraken wakes we will wish it had been the last of its kind.

Their krill-strainers are at your krill, yet ye detect them not with sonar, etc.
posted by No-sword at 1:08 PM on February 6, 2010


It's the cetacean Flying Dutchman.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:16 PM on February 6, 2010


Such an interesting story--to forever be alone in your song, but only because you're singing it wrong and no other whale will be responding? That's poignant.

Suddenly I'm reminded of OKCupid again for some reason.
posted by Servo5678 at 1:31 PM on February 6, 2010


It is the ghost of the Kursk..

[X-File music]
posted by Clementines4ever at 1:59 PM on February 6, 2010


Anthropomorphia. We have no reason whatsoever to assume whales feel loneliness, let alone that this whale is "lonely."
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:02 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


This saddens me. You suck.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 2:09 PM on February 6, 2010


Ray Bradbury saw this coming all along!

The Fog Horn

(Thanks for pointing out this thread limonaire.)
posted by Kimothy at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is roughly equivalent to what human signals in space sound like to extraterrestrials.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:25 PM on February 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


"Anthropomorphia. We have no reason whatsoever to assume whales feel loneliness, let alone that this whale is "lonely.""

It keeps calling out, though, so it's reasonable to assume that the whale desires a response. Isn't that the definition of loneliness?
posted by Kevin Street at 2:28 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Librarylis, promise us you'll let us know what Mary Ann Daher says!
posted by CrazyJoel at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2010


The 52 Hz whale is actually 3 separate stoner whales fucking around with us.
posted by Mister_A at 2:35 PM on February 6, 2010


You haven't lived until you've tried Deep-Sea Whale Weed. Man, I *was* the Atlantic.
posted by The Whelk at 2:36 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll admit, this got a few tears out of me. I've been emotional lately due to some stuff, but this is probably the only thing that's been worth crying over.

You rock that whalesong, whale.
posted by inkytea at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2010


"Anthropomorphia. We have no reason whatsoever to assume whales feel loneliness, let alone that this whale is "lonely."

We can say that a social animal without social interaction can experience the negative effects of isolation via a stress response.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


Dude, he's doing his OWN thing, man. Singing his OWN song, doin' his OWN migratory route. He's on a whole different wavelength than all those square whales, all those conformist whales. He's a loner. A rebel. No one understands him, no one answers, because they can't appreciate his ART.
posted by The otter lady at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


Probably sporting a black trench coat.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2010


"Anthropomorphia. We have no reason whatsoever to assume whales feel loneliness, let alone that this whale is "lonely.""

This is untrue. It's necessary to unpack the word "lonely." It's a judgment based on, or used as a label for, the desire or inclination to socialize, as well as the name of a subjective "feeling." Humans exhibit stereotypical communicative behavior in pursuit of social interaction. So do whales. Humans act and communicate differently when in groups than they do on their own. So do whales (presumably - I'm not claiming whale expertise).

You (the generic you) presumably experience a purely subjective "feeling" when you're alone that you subjectively relate to a desire to socialize. But I (the generic I) can't know about your feeling except insofar as some aspect of your behavior gives me grounds to infer it. I've got many more reasons to assume you feel loneliness - the biggest reason being, of course, that your communicative behavior is a million times more complex and nuanced than that of a whale - you can use human language to attempt to disclose your subjectivity to me. But on a purely behavioral level, I've got loads of reasons to analogize non-human internal states to those of humans.
posted by facetious at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Foolish whale scientists. You've got 52 hertz signal versus the usual 20 hertz? It's some jackass whale version of Senor Wences.

S'alright?
S'alright.
S'alright?
S'alright.
S'alright?
S'alright.

He's alone because the other whales don't find that stupid shit funny anymore.
posted by FuManchu at 3:35 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why can't we simulate his/her "wrong" whalesong, and project it--lure him/ her in to see what the ish is? Or failing that, to keep him/ her company at least?

"If I cried out / who would hear me up there / among the angelic orders?"

--Rainer Maria Rilke, "First Elegy," Duino Elegies
posted by exlotuseater at 3:37 PM on February 6, 2010


A whale that sings
is a wonderful thing
But when it's alone
it makes a sad tone
posted by bwg at 3:39 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why can't we simulate his/her "wrong" whalesong, and project it--lure him/ her in to see what the ish is? Or failing that, to keep him/ her company at least?

Ripley: Ash, that transmission - Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.

Ash: What is it, then?

Ripley: Well, it looks like a warning.

posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


derelict spacecraft at the bottom of the ocean?
posted by exlotuseater at 4:07 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just posted a question about Sad Whale at AskABiologist, so interested folks might want to keep an eye on that as well.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, it may be that further research about that whale specifically was dropped because William Watkins, lead author on the 2004 paper that sparked all this, unfortunately died that year.

Not only has the whale been singing on a different wavelength for 12 years without a response, but the guy who had studied the whale died. My spirits are certainly lifted today.
posted by ersatz at 5:59 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh, it could be worse. Like a miscolored ant with screwy chemotransmitters. "Guys? GUYS! I'm right HERE! Why do you act like I don't exist?! This isn't funny any more! Guys?"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:09 PM on February 6, 2010


Now I have the song from Jurassic Bark stuck in my head.

If it takes forever,
I will wait for you.
For a thousand summers,
I will wait for you...


Poor whale.
posted by sallybrown at 6:13 PM on February 6, 2010


In 1979, I got this plastic record of humpback whale song.

I reckon I had that, too. The date sounds aboutright.

The one I had was green, and it was so thin you were supposed to weigh it down with a coin on the non playing part. I think there was a part where they sped up the whales' songs and they sounded exactly like birds twittering away at sunrise.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:17 PM on February 6, 2010


Man, between this and the homeless animals who ride the subway, I've wanted to hug a lot of lonely animals this week.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:03 PM on February 6, 2010


Maybe it's actually a forgetful blue tang, who only THINKS she can speak whale.
posted by The otter lady at 7:05 PM on February 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


Cthulhu fhtagn, guys.
posted by limon at 7:08 PM on February 6, 2010


The otter lady, just so you know, I just came back to check on the thread and your post was the first new one I hadn't read yet. I had been watching a movie with my daughter. Yes, that one. Judging from the people around me, rolling around on the floor laughing, I make a very funny sound when I'm really surprised by something.
posted by Cobalt at 8:42 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


cf Lonesome George
posted by overyield at 9:32 PM on February 6, 2010


let's answer! We have the technology. We have whaling research ships. Surely they can spend some time with a speaker in the water, giving something like a reply to him. When he arrives, he can be lured closer...

Keeping in mind that baleen whales have the largest testes on Earth (a half ton per *nut* in right whales, for example [erm, that's the species commonly known as right whales, not to be confused with the opposite of incorrect whales]), I sure as hell hope whomever decides to put a plan in motion to lure this guy in closer has a solution in mind for what has to be the biggest case of blue balls in history.
posted by jamaro at 12:11 AM on February 7, 2010


A 500kg nut? Farking bullshit, surely?

Your comment reminds me of the giant triceratops shit in Jurassic Park which was practically the same size of the beast.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:13 AM on February 7, 2010


This is the saddest thing I've heard for months. Poor whale.
posted by RussHy at 4:17 AM on February 7, 2010


But I haven't found any mention of the song being heard (or not) since 2004.

Apparently, the last recording of this whale song ends abruptly with Kayne West's voice saying "Whale, I'm really sad for ya, and Imma letya finish..."
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:39 AM on February 7, 2010


Dude, he's doing his OWN thing, man. Singing his OWN song, doin' his OWN migratory route. He's on a whole different wavelength than all those square whales, all those conformist whales. He's a loner. A rebel. No one understands him, no one answers, because they can't appreciate his ART.


Maybe he's continually singing 'My Way' and that's why everybody is avoiding him.
posted by litleozy at 8:26 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I keep getting the image of an alien race confused about which exactly is the dominant race on earth, went for the biggest and threw one of their own, camouflaged as a whale, to make contact while they continue exploring the galaxy.
posted by Memo at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least it got away from the island.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:46 AM on February 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


This post marks a turning point in my respect for Wolfram Alpha: I wanted to hear what 52hz sounded like, and tried slapping it into Alpha and got a "play sound" button. So try it out: it's pretty low.

Blue whales typically call at frequencies between 15 and 20 hertz.

This is about the lower limit of human hearing range. The wale is singing to us!
posted by lostburner at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In case Mary Ann Daher does not respond...After I read about this whale several years ago, I used to email Mary Ann Daher once a year for an update. She confirmed he was singing each year, then I got this email from her in December 2009:
"Unfortunately, I am not working with the Navy SOSUS personnel, so I am not privy to the data. I assume that the whale is alive and well as other researchers have mentioned detecting sounds in the appropriate Pacific region."
posted by Jackson at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Awesome, jackson, thanks for updating the situation a bit!

She may or may not respond to my email (she may be tired of answering questions about it), but if she does have a more recent update than jackson's, or a lead on who would know the answer at SOSUS, I will definitely post what I can.
posted by librarylis at 6:36 PM on February 7, 2010


...has been calling out to to the Hydrophones ever since it got wind of them...

Huh, this is the first I've heard of this. Go figure.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:30 AM on February 10, 2010


I also want to know if there's any update.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:28 PM on February 23, 2010


Update: I emailed Mary Ann Daher quite some time ago, and she very promptly responded. Unfortunately, she explained that she had no information about the whale past 2006, and that NMFS would be the next best possible source for that.

It's taken me most of the month, but I have emailed NMFS and will see if anyone responds. If they don't respond by the time this thread closes, I'll be sure to post an update in MetaTalk.
posted by librarylis at 10:09 AM on March 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thank you, librarylis!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:11 AM on March 4, 2010


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