Exploration Mysteries: The World’s Loneliest Whale

Since the 1980s, a lonely call has echoed through the Pacific Ocean. Somewhere in its depths, “the world’s loneliest whale” travels in search of companionship. It broadcasts its position to potential mates at a distinct frequency of 52Hz. What stumps scientists is that this whale has never been sighted, nor do they know its species. What is this whale, and why is it so lonely? Are there others out there?

A strange call

The U.S. Navy first detected the 52Hz call in 1989, just as the Cold War was winding down. The military was using hydrophones to monitor enemy submarines. On a routine mission, they picked up what sounded like a loud, sad moan. It was definitely of non-human origin, and they later determined that it was a whale. Whale calls are common. The big cetaceans use them to communicate with each other, to navigate, and to find food. However, this one was quite unusual. 


Every species has a specific vocalization pattern that acts as a fingerprint when researchers are identifying species. For example, your average blue whale vocalizes at frequencies between 10 and 40Hz. A fin whale does so at 20Hz. Humpback whale songs are likewise easily identifiable, and the distinct sperm whale clicks are a whopping 10,000Hz. 

The 52Hz whale’s call stands out for several reasons. This frequency remains unused by any species on record, and its patterns of repetition and sequencing are shorter and more unpredictable. Another interesting detail is that 52 — as this whale has become known — has qualities of both fin and blue whales.

From the sound, scientists have been able to get an idea of the whale’s migration patterns, which resemble those of a blue whale. However, the seasons in which its movements take place resemble fin whales.

52 does not venture out of the Pacific Ocean and calls from August to December before going silent. It has been doing this almost yearly, with some variations. Despite its now-familiar call, the 52Hz whale continues to evade scientists.


Most likely, our elusive 52 is a rare hybrid: a blue-fin whale, to be exact. According to Whales Online, blue and fin whale hybrids were first discovered in the 1990s. This could be due to the relatively low numbers of blue whales compared to fins. In the past, whalers focused on blue whales, and these rare whales may have trouble finding mates.

Hybrids occur once in a while. A possible sighting of blue-fin hybrid off occurred off Dana Point in California in 2021. Locals archly named the hybrid Flue.

This means that the 52Hz whale is not alone. Scientists determined that 52 is likely a male. Males are typically the ones to call out to females to attract them, though not always.

fin whale

A fin whale from a drone. Photo: NOAA Fisheries


But why is 52 the only one to call at 52Hz? Why hasn’t anyone answered, especially if other hybrids do exist? Perhaps hydrophones have simply not picked up other 52Hz signals.

“Blue whales, fin whales, and humpback whales: all these whales can hear this guy; they’re not deaf,” says Cornell University researcher Christopher Clark. “He’s just odd.”

He believes that the whales might not understand what he is saying since his frequency is so unusual, hence their lack of response. Compared to most other whales, his voice is quite high-pitched. 

Some suggest that 52’s unique characteristics are the result of deformity or deafness. However, we won’t be able to confirm this until we actually spot him.

For a time in the 2000s, the calls stopped. This prompted scientists to believe that he was dead. However, he has since been heard from again.

Recent developments

Some have not given up trying to spot this lonesome whale. Filmmaker Joshua Zeman produced a documentary exploring his quest to find it. He called it The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (2021).

In this production, we follow Zeman as he gains access to old U.S. Navy recordings of the frequency, and takes a crew of 22 along the coast of California. Eventually, he makes a fascinating discovery: two 52Hz calls and footage of possible hybrids in the area. Looks like 52 is no longer on his own! However, they were unable to determine if the other was male or female. 

whale hybrid

Possible blue-fin hybrid spotted in California. Photo: Dolphinsafari.com


Since then, 52’s call has decreased in frequency from 52Hz to 49Hz. This could be due to age and could mean that the frequency will continue to decrease as the whale gets older.


Judging by the little evidence we have, it is safe to say that 52Hz Whale is a very shy blue-fin hybrid. However, one must also keep in mind the state of our oceans today. They are busier than ever. What if our oceans are simply too noisy to pick up anything else? What if we are scaring off other potential hybrids from revealing themselves? This might explain why we haven’t found him yet. 

With regards to the tale’s human element, Joshua Zeman calls the 52Hz whale a metaphor for loneliness, which many people can relate to. The idea that an animal experiences something similar to us immediately connects with us. Enthusiasts from all over the world convey their sadness and solidarity with the animal.

However, since 52 might not be alone after all, there is hope for a happy ending yet.

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.