Lessons from the World's Loneliest Whale

By Trevor Scott Barton 08-01-2014
Albert Ziganshin / Shutterstock.com

Albert Ziganshin / Shutterstock.com

In the northern Pacific Ocean, there is a giant whale named 52 Hertz. Scientists named him that because when he sings, the frequency of his whale song is around 52 Hertz. When other whales sing their songs, they sing at frequencies between 15 and 25 Hertz. His song cannot be heard by any other whale. He is known as the loneliest whale in the world.

Normally whales are communal creatures. They live their lives in family groups. They migrate from warm waters to cooler waters to give birth and find food. They follow the same migration route from year to year. 52 Hertz is different. He lives alone. He does not follow a migration route. He wanders the ocean, a lonely, wandering whale.

We do not know what kind of whale 52 Hertz is. He could be a deformed blue or fin whale. He could be a cross breed of those two types of whales. He could be a kind of whale we have yet to discover. He is an unknown whale.

Soon a team will set out on a seven-week expedition in search of 52 Hertz. Will they find him? Will he find them? Does he want to be found? I wonder.

In December 2004, the New York Times published a story about 52 Hertz titled "Song of the Sea, a Cappella and Unanswered." Readers responded to the story with deep empathy and loneliness. They wrote messages and created art — expressed thoughts and feelings that they, too, were like 52 Hertz ... that they, too, were singing unheard, wandering songs.

52 Hertz's story reminds me of another story, too. It is a story about us as human beings and the world in which we live. It is a story of the ways we are lonely, of the ways we are apart — separated by class, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, culture, political ideology ... separated in so many ways by so many things. It is a story of the ways we talk at each other instead of to each other. It is a story that asks the questions, "Can we hear each other? Can we listen to each other and learn to build a better world together for every human being and for every living thing?"

We send out our words and hope that someone will hear them and sing back to us. We send our words over the water ... and listen ... and hope.

I created this small poem in wonder of 52 Hertz and in hope that we will learn to listen to each other.

52 Hertz

Whale

Song

Lonely

Where Are You?

Wandering, Singing

Singing Unheard Wandering Songs

"Can You Hear Me? Are You There? Are You?

I Am Alone"

Listening, Longing For Songs Gently Sung

"I Hear You, Words On Water, I'm Here,

I'm Here"

We Sing At Diff'rent Frequencies

Migrate Along Diff'rent Routes

Wandering, Wondering

Unheard, Unknown,

Wandering The Sea

Words On Water

Singing Unheard Wondering Songs

Wondering, Singing

Who Are You?

Gentle

Song

Whale

Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, S.C. He is a blogger for the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Image: Albert Ziganshin / Shutterstock.com

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