52 Hz

This post is part of PRX’s STEM Story Project series.

In elusive moments, we can often feel alone in the world — prone to disconnection. What if I told you that there was at least one whale out there who could understand exactly how you’re feeling?

52Hz is the name given to a mysterious whale that vocalizes at a higher frequency than other whales. Some refer to him as the world’s loneliest whale, but scientists aren’t convinced that its unique call has left the whale isolated. The producers of Everything Sounds investigate the 52Hz whale, marine mammal communication, and whether or not this whale is truly alone.

Making this piece come together was no easy task. Craig Shank and George Drake, Jr., decided to drive 15 hours from Chicago, Ill., to Woods Hole, Mass., to grab audio on-site in order to get a more complete view of the work that marine biologists do. (For those unaware, Woods Hole happens to bear significance for those with a love for both science and radio.) There, the producers spoke with Darlene Ketten:

“Maybe it was our exhaustion setting in, but we left that conversation feeling as though we had some of the most interesting audio we’ve ever collected together. We were amazed at how much we learned about marine life and we were eager to share it in our piece about the 52Hz whale. That conversation helped us to realize that the stories we tell ourselves about animals often aren’t anywhere near as fascinating as the facts and the process of making new discoveries. I expected to produce a story about one unique whale. However, I didn’t expect to come away with a changed perspective of the natural world.”

Lean in and listen to a story that will not only change your perspective on the world, but also one that sparked a change in the producers who ventured to tell it.

Image: Spectrogram of the 52 Hz signal, Wikimedia

Want to learn more about whale calls? Whale FM is a citizen science project that allows you to help scientists better understand orca and pilot whale sounds. You can listen to the sounds online and help identify matches.

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