In 1989 the U.S. Navy detected a mysterious signal in the Pacific Ocean. Picked up by a top secret, Cold War-era surveillance system designed to track enemy submarines, this sound vibrated through the depths at a staggering 52 hertz. The noise was definitely not a submarine. It had never be seen and there was no knowledge as to whether it was the first of the last of its kind.
What do we really know about whales other than tales and forklore shared to us as kids about Jonah in the belly of a whale, Moby Dick or numerous docs that deep dive into Orcas like Blackfish? Apparently, whales have a sound that is very similar to that of a submarine that is heard from Humpback, Blue and Fin whales resembling anything from a bloop sound to a lower type of noise. When Oceanographer Bill Watkins was asked to categorize what was being heard under the surface things got real interesting resulting in the search for 52Hz.
Audiences become privy to the fact that whales have a dialect all their own which is somewhere between creepy, yet hauntingly beautiful. A sound that inspired a multi-platinum hit record ‘Songs of the Humpback,’ kicking off a campaign from hundreds of activists, resulting in a halt to the nearly 130,000 whales being slaughtered yearly. Whale songs were first identified in the 50s, and while sailors attributed these haunting sea melodies to mermaids, scientists were the first to correctly identify whale songs, while listening for Russian submarines in Bermuda.
Directed by Joshua Zeman and beautifully captured cinematically by Nelson Hume and Alan Jacobsen, The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 delves into the psyche of this misunderstood creature and how its sheer existence has changed humanity. Through discovering that they could sing made people care and when when people care they can change the world.
As humans, we often times need to be reminded that all animals are social beings. They need their tribe and interaction to be mentally and physically stimulated. Whales are no different. One of my favorite moments was watching these scientists play music for 52 in the same manner a dog owner will leave a television on to entertain their pet with hopes of the mysterious creature resurfacing. Alas, there was no such luck until a year and two days after the initial expedition, somewhere off point conception 52 was found.
This doc is educational, fascinating and proof that at the end of the day, all beings with a pulse need a love and tenderness. Produced by Bleecker Street, The Loneliest Whale can be seen in theaters and via Apple TV, Prime Video and Vudu.