In twenty years of stalking, nobody has ever seen the whale 52 Hz . Yet we hear. Its cry sounds, if it were here and there in the depths of the North Pacific, off the coast of British Columbia. The whale launches calls, pushes his melodies for hours, and nobody replied. For other whales sing on lower frequencies between 12Hz and 25Hz. To his peers, singing our lonely specimen is thus not a song, it’s just noise. It is nothing at all. And when we know that the whale song, it’s usually a love call, we imagine the whale 52 Hz single forever and we all inevitably returned. While music bands wrote songs for him ( The Loneliest Whale in the World of Dalmatian Rex, Doreen the Whale , Kate Micucci, The Loneliest Creature on Earth , Laura Ann Bates). The Germans Agnieszka Jurek and Thies Schwarz devoted a book for children ( 52 Hertz Wal ). The filmmaker Joshua Zeman is doing a film about the animal. Artist Mike Ambs and devoted a blog called The Loneliest Mix where you can listen to variations on this song supposed épleuré.
Some think 52 Hz is an unexpected hybrid between a blue whale and fin whale. Others believe that the whale has learned the wrong language, it is a linguistic mutant, stuck between two different dialects - as the whale does not even sing in the same way as it comes from the Atlantic or Pacific … Recorded for the first time by oceanographer Bill Watkins in 1989, singing since wanders up and down in the ocean, always alone, recorded by hydrophones placed once at sea by the U.S. Navy to detect submarines Soviet and more or less sold to civilians since the end of the Cold War. Blog MIT SciWrite of the Public Library of Science has just relaunched the quest It keeps track ..
Scientists have pulled off a daring close encounter with Earth’s biggest animal, the Antarctic blue whale, using world-first acoustic tracking techniques.
An Australian-led international team for the first time homed in on the marine giants from hundreds of kilometres away by listening for their songs.
Then, in a hazardous operation in icy waters, a small boat team sped within metres of the fast-moving mammals, which can weight up to 100 tonnes, to dart some for scientific data.
Getting up close to a 30 metre blue was “pretty mind-blowing”, said Virginia Andrews-Goff, whose job it was to fire the darts.
"Certainly I was the size of an ant in comparison."
Dr Andrews-Goff said she was able to fire satellite tags into two blues’ blubber layers, and watch over the next two weeks as one swam 2000 kilometres, confirming the species’ great range through the Southern Ocean.
Others were sampled with biopsy darts that will yield evidence of the whales’ food, as well as tell whether human pollutants are accumulating in their bodies.
The project underscored the strength of non-lethal techniques, according to Australian Antarctic Division chief scientist, Nick Gales.
"There simply isn’t a scientific reason to go and kill a whale in the Southern Ocean," Dr Gales said.
Its key was the use of sonar listening devices developed from anti-submarine warfare to find what acoustician Brian Miller said was the equivalent of a needle in a haystack.
Commercial whaling last century killed around 340,000 Antarctic blues, reducing their estimated population to a few hundred by the 1970s.
Today, perhaps a couple of thousand of the endangered animals now roam the ocean, Dr Miller said.
Until now, scientists have studied the whales by following migratory routes, in the hope of encountering blues along the way.
Instead, using sonar to listen for their extremely low-pitched 20-30 second song, Dr Miller said it was possible to hear a blue singing from up to 1100 kilometres away, and gradually home in on the song.
"It’s a very deep song, but all of the Antarctic blues sing the same tune," Dr Miller said. "They have perfect pitch."
The research team left New Zealand in January on the chartered fishing boat Amaltal Explorer to work in waters from the Ross Sea region to far south of Tasmania, and analysed 26,545 blues calls on the voyage.
As the ship approached singing whales, Dr Miller’s team was able to triangulate their positions within a few kilometres by dropping sonobuoys into the icy waters.
Observers aboard the Amaltal Explorer were able to do the rest, directing the ship close enough for photo-identification of the whales, or for the darting crew to be launched.
A total of 57 photo-identifications were collected. Dr Andrews-Goff said that by examining dorsal fin shape and skin mottling patterns, scientists could catalogue individuals and compare sightings in later years.
Already one blue with a distinctive fin shape found on this voyage was found to have been photographed off the French Dumont d’Urville base in 2006, she said.
She predicted the voyage’s results would change the way whale research was conducted.
A unique whale call with 50–52 Hz emphasis from a single source has been tracked over 12 years in the central and eastern North Pacific. These calls, referred to as 52-Hz calls, were monitored and analyzed from acoustic data recorded by hydrophones of the US Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) and other arrays.
The calls were noticed first in 1989, and have been detected and tracked since 1992. No other calls with similar characteristics have been identified in the acoustic data from any hydrophone system in the North Pacific basin. Only one series of these 52-Hz calls has been recorded at a time, with no call overlap, suggesting that a single whale produced the calls. The calls were recorded from August to February with most in December and January. The species producing these calls is unknown.
The tracks of the 52-Hz whale were different each year, and varied in length from 708 to 11,062 km with travel speeds ranging from 0.7 to 3.8 km/h. Tracks included (A) meandering over short ranges, (B) predominantly west-to-east movement, and (C) mostly north-to-south travel. These tracks consistently appeared to be unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species monitored year-round with the same hydrophones.
When we gaze into the eyes of a wild animal, or even a beloved pet, can we ever really know what they might be thinking? Is it naive to assume they’re experiencing something close to human emotions? Or is it ridiculous to assume that they AREN’T feeling something like that? We get the story of a rescued whale that may have found a way to say thanks, ask whether dogs feel guilt, and wonder if a successful predator may have fallen in love…
The wonderfully talented Kevin Rasmussen emailed me a link to this Radiolab podcast - the conversation starts off with a group of people that managed to cut free a female humpback whale, which had become tangled in a web of nets that were keeping her from surfacing enough to breath. It’s a beautiful story - a tear jerking one, I should warn; I was telling Erica the story on our date a few nights ago and she started crying right at the dinner table :P
Now, I can’t say I was impressed with the first scientist they brought on, he either a) made a very piss-poor case for why animals are incapable of feeling thankful, relief, loss, love, etc; or b) he just doesn’t really know much of what he’s talking about. Forgiving that though, the other scientist they speak with, the one who collects and studies brains from different animals, is a very engaging piece of the podcast.
As described in a 2005 report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Sounding the Depths II: The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life,” oceans that as recently as 100 years ago had been one vast, ongoing whale and piscine chorus have now essentially become senses-wilting miasmas of human-made noise. At a 2004 International Whaling Commission symposium, more than 100 scientists signed a statement asserting that the association between sonar and whale deaths “is very convincing and appears overwhelming.”
The question of sonar’s catastrophic effects on whales even reached the Supreme Court last November, in a case pitting the United States Navy against the Natural Resources Defense Council. The council, along with other environmental groups, had secured two landmark victories in the district and appellate courts of California, which ruled to heavily restrict the Navy’s use of sonar devices in its training exercises. The Supreme Court, however, in a 6-to-3 decision widely viewed as a setback for the environmental movement, overturned parts of the lower-court rulings, faulting them for, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion, failing “properly to defer to senior Navy officers’ specific, predictive judgments,” thereby jeopardizing the safety of the fleet and sacrificing the public’s interest in military preparedness by “forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained antisubmarine force.” In his decision, Roberts went on to minimize, in a fairly dismissive tone, the issue of harm to marine life: “For the plaintiffs, the most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of the marine animals that they study and observe.”
Pulsing sounds made by technology used to monitor fish stocks may affect how baleen whales communicate, even at great distances.
Marine biologists working in Massachusetts waters noticed that humpback whales sang less during the fall of 2006, when a low frequency signal showed up in their recordings. They eventually traced the signal to some acoustic sensing equipment that was part of a scientific study off Maine’s coast, about 120 miles from where they were studying seasonal changes in whale songs in Georges Bank.
The scientists recorded more frequent whale vocalizations (listen below) during the same time of year in 2008 and 2009, when the study’s Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing equipment was not being used. This suggests the whales reacted to the low-level sounds by silencing their songs.
“It’s fascinating that we saw this behavioral response over such a large distance,” said Denise Risch, a marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and lead author of research published Jan. 11 in PLoS One.
just like to say how much i love your page! i just recently learned about the 52hertz whale and in search to find the whales voice, it led me here. Your video and it's audio is mindblowing inspiring. better audio from this science site i found which had the song in 10 speed. i feel the need to create something im not sure of what yet. love it, can't wait for the next campaign.
Thank you very much for the kind words :) I’ve been so surprised how many people find the story of the loneliest whale as interesting as I do - it makes me very happy. Let me know if you do create something, I always love tracking related projects. And it won’t be long before I do another campaign, I have the tapes for the last campaign that just finished all packed up and ready to go, so a week or so into Feb and I’ll run another small batch of tapes.