32: 52 Hz

A mysterious 52 Hertz signal was first heard in the North Pacific in the late 1980’s. It had the characteristics of a whale call, but it was a higher frequency than what is typical for baleen whales. After years of detecting the signal on hydrophone recordings, scientists have still never seen the whale and are unsure whether it’s a hybrid species or a blue or fin whale that has a problem with its sound production. The 52 Hz whale has often been referred to as “The World’s Loneliest Whale,” because people think that other whales couldn’t understand it’s unique call. Learn more about the 52 Hz whale, underwater communication, whale tracking, and why this whale may not be as lonely as previously assumed from Darlene Ketten of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Bruce Mate of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, and Orla O’Brian.

Read William A. Watkins’s 1999 and 2004 papers mentioning 52 Hz or click here to find an online memoriam for this man who helped discover an share the earliest information on 52 Hz.

Bruce Mate will be assisting with the documentary titled, “Finding 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World.” The search for 52 Hz will begin next fall.

Music in this episode was composed by Mustafa Shaheen. You can hear the songs on his music page.

If you’re interested in seeing a clip of Pinball the humpback whale, a YouTube user uploaded this clip from the day we went on a whale watch:

Thanks to Rachael McDonald from KLCC for recording assistance with this episode and to Boston Harbor Cruises and the crew of Cetacea.

This production is part of the STEM Story Project, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

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