Back in 1989, a team of researchers from Woods Hole detected what they believed to be an abnormal whale call. The sound, which wasn’t made public until 1992, was picked up by naval equipment originally intended to track Soviet submarines in the Pacific Ocean during the Cold War. The whale’s call registered at 52 hertz, which is important because that frequency is abnormally high for such an animal to use. Researchers have been hearing the call each year since 1992, indicating that the individual appears to be maturing and surviving just fine. They’ve also been able to use this data to track the individual’s movements and believe it to be a blue whale, fin whale, or a hybrid of both species (something that apparently is not unheard of for these two species).
Blue whales utilize a frequency of anywhere between 12-30 Hz, while fin whales typically register at 20 Hz. If “52” is a hybrid of these two species, its unusual anatomy may have caused this shift in vocal range. Some camps suggest that “52” is not a hybrid whale, just a regular blue whale with a unique “dialect.” However, because 52 Hz falls outside the range that blue whales use to communicate, “52” has been deemed “the lonely whale.” Whether this individual whale actually feels lonely is unknown; whales are highly social animals, though, so it’s not a stretch to think it feels some emotional disconnect. Data that came out of Scripps about five years ago suggested that there may actually be multiple “52” whales, suggesting that our main character isn’t necessarily alone after all.
Whether it’s actually lonely or not, researchers know very little about this individual. Well, Adrian Grenier is out to fix that by making this whale famous (which probably won’t help its emotional issues). The Entourage star’s latest documentary, tentatively titled “52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale,” chronicles Grenier, his filmmaking partner Josh Zeman, and a team of scientists as they search for the 52-hertz whale. Using sonar equipment and submersibles, the crew hopes to locate and record the individual to learn more about its life. Grenier also hopes to bring awareness to noise pollution in the ocean, a very real threat to marine mammals that use sound to communicate (i.e.practically all of them).
And whatever your personal views on Adrian Grenier, it’s hard to deny that this is a win for ocean science for one major reason: his Kickstarter campaign raised $400,000.00 for what is essentially a documented marine mammal research cruise. Funding for oceanographic research is already extremely low, so collaborations between scientists and rich celebrities who played rich celebrities in a “fictional” tv show may become more common. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These high profile celebrities can leverage their fame to create an enormous following for scientific research. Not as enormous as SUFB’s following, but still pretty big. And with more celebrities highlighting ocean conservation and research, we may start to see more people caring about plastic pollution, noise pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and coral bleaching.
Enjoy the Podcast!