Loneliest Whale Research Offers Courses for the Internet Age
“The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52” is no ordinary nature documentary. In the hands of documentary filmmaker Joshua Zeman, who has tackled urban legends and serial killers in his work (“Cropsey”, “The Killing Season”), this film is a mystery of nature, an unanswered question that must be resolved. So, Zeman sets out to answer this question, despite incredible odds, and like most incredible explorations in the depths, the journey is surprising, but not without its rewards.
As with many mysteries, this one begins with a short story that caught Zeman’s attention. In 1989, an underwater sonar system developed and used by the United States Navy captured the rare biological sound signature of a whale recording a frequency of 52 hertz, unlike any other whale song.
In 2004, an article was published after the death of one of the leading scientists working on tracking this whale, Bill Watkins, which brought public attention to this curious creature. With the sole information that this whale’s calls were not recorded by other whales, the authors speculated that this whale roamed the seas, the calls went undetected and unanswered, and so, “The Whale the most lonely “, aka” 52 “, was born, at least in the human imagination.
52 indeed captured the collective unconscious, becoming a sort of metaphor or meme for the internet age generation, feeling disconnected the more and more we connected. Behind computer screens aren’t we all lone whales, sending our signatures, hoping someone could hear it and maybe even respond? âThe Loneliest Whaleâ is a âgreat mood,â as some might say.
“The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52” is a chronicle of Zeman embarking on a seemingly impossible journey to find his white whale. With a little data and a lot of hope, Zeman sets sail for the Channel Islands off the California coast with a team of oceanographers and biologists in tow using Navy sonar equipment, drone cameras. and tracking beacons to try to find 52.
Zeman not only offers a description of his journey to Find 52, but also an examination of what whales have meant to humans throughout history, how it has changed, and why. In the 20th century, whales have evolved in our imaginations from a fuel source to conscious creatures we can empathize with.
And there is so much more to learn from interacting with whales, too, when talking about our own existential questions. Zeman discovers in his quest that the key is to really listen and find the quiet places where messages can pass.
If there is one environmental message in “The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52” (how can there not be one?), It’s that our world has become too noisy for whales. As container ships ply the oceans carrying our cars, clothing and consumer goods, the songs of whales drown beneath the surface. There is both devastation and resonance to this fact. Has our own world become too crowded with noise to really, really get along?
Zeman’s Journey to the Heart of the Sea, a modern day ‘Moby Dick’ with an environmental bent, surprises, thrills and will keep you on the edge of your seat as you search for something mysterious and elusive will always deliver the unexpected. You’ll never think of whales and their songs the same again, and that’s a good thing, as our understanding of these amazing creatures continues to evolve rapidly.