Saturday 9 April 2011
The Story of the Lonely Whale Will Break Your Heart
Once upon a time, there was a whale called June. Or maybe her name is Margaret. Or Kate. We don't really know. A few nitrogen-hearted scientists call her 52 Hertz just because she sings at a 51.75Hz frequency, but I will call her Alice.
Alice isn't like any other baleen whale. Unlike all whales, Alice doesn't have friends. She doesn't have a family. She doesn't belong to any tribe, pack or gang. She doesn't have a lover. She never had one.
In the immense solitude of the ocean, Alice is completely alone.
The only thing Alice does is sing. Like other whales, she has been singing for a very long time. The first time we heard her song was in 1989, when the hydrophone network of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded her voice for the first time. The researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been tracking her using these hydrophones for the last two decades.
Her songs—in this recording accelerated by a factor of five—come in groups of two to six calls, lasting for five to six seconds each. But her voice is unlike any other baleen whale. It is unique—while the rest of her kind communicate between 12 and 25Hz, Alice sings at 51.75Hz.
You see, my dear humans, that's precisely Alice's problem. No other whales can hear her. Every one of her desperate calls to communicate remains unanswered. Each cry ignored. And with every lonely song, Alice becomes sadder and more frustrated, her notes going deeper in despair as the years go by.
Nobody knows why this is happening. Nobody knows why Alice is going through the wrong paths instead of following the usual baleen whale's migratory channels. Some think that she might be a weird hybrid, one of a kind. Maybe she—or he, as we don't really know the whale's sex—is the last member of her species. Perhaps there was a mutation. Who knows. Who cares—the explanation doesn't matter.
Whatever the reason is, the sad fact is that there's no happy ending to this tale. Alice keeps roaming the big blue, eating krill, seeing other creatures around her but unable to communicate with any of them. And one day, the NOAA hydrophones will record Alice's unique voice one last time. And again, that farewell cry will get no reply. But it will not matter this time because, at last, Alice would be sad no more.